Health & Wellness

How to interrupt without being a jerk: Dealing with bosses, dates and more

You’ve always been taught not to interrupt and you hate being interrupted yourself, but sometimes you have to channel your inner Charlie Rose and interject away.

Human conversation should have a rhythm to it, with pauses that give you your own turn at talking. When someone doesn't follow that rule, it can get awkward.

“It has to do so much with the self-awareness of the person who is speaking,” Lizzie Post, an etiquette expert and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, told TODAY. “There are people who... just don’t know how to stop that stream of consciousness from coming out of their mouths.”

Sometimes, not only do you have a right to interrupt, you may think of it as almost a good thing, said psychologist Linda Sapadin, author of “How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age.”

“You want someone to get to the point and you want it to be a conversation, not taking center stage,” Sapadin said.

Here are common scenarios and how best to interrupt:

The basic rules

Look for the pause in the conversation or at least let someone finish a thought, Post recommended. Then politely ask: “Could I interrupt for a moment?”

You can also interrupt with a statement about time, Sapadin suggested. For example, “I only have another two minutes to chat and then I’m going to have to move on, just to let you know.” Use the person's name to get their attention: "Lisa, my question is..."

Don’t interrupt if you’re going to completely change the dynamic of the discussion — that’s almost like kidnapping the conversation, Post said.

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Interrupting your boss

When your manager goes on and on, and you want to make a point during the monologue, proceed with caution.

“I would not interrupt my boss, if I can avoid it,” Post said. “I would really wait until I have a clear-cut point of entry into a conversation.”

Write down the thoughts and questions you have in your head so that you can express them later, if need be, she suggested.

Sometimes, the endless monologue can come from a place of concern — perhaps your boss is worried that you won’t be able to get something done on time. In that case, confirm and summarize your manager’s point, Sapadin noted. You can say: “I know you’re really concerned about getting out the reports on time and I got that, I’m on it.”

Trying to get a word in can be extra hard if you’re talking with your boss on the phone, when you can’t signal with your face or body language that you’d like to say something. Again, it may be better to wait.

“If the rudeness of talking over or interrupting this person would be too much for the situation, then just don’t make the interruption,” Post advised.

It can also depend on how many people are around: During a one-on-one meeting or call, you have a much better chance of your interruption not embarrassing your manager in front of other people, she added.

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Interrupting during a meeting

If you don’t want to wait to ask a question until the meeting is over, try to catch the presenter’s eye or subtly get her attention.

Post would refrain from fully raising her hand — that brings you right back to school days — but you could raise one finger slightly or point to something on a piece of paper in front of you.

Let the person who is leading the meeting decide whether she will take questions now or not. Be prepared for her to say she’d like to finish the agenda first, and accept questions and comments later, Sapadin said.

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Interrupting during a conference call

Without visual cues, you may need to be a little more assertive to get a word in, but keep a positive, light tone and be “politely pushy,” Post said. That polite tone is going to make a difference. You could interject by saying: “Do you mind if I respond to a few of those things right now?”

Interrupt by starting with the person’s name to get their attention and make personal contact, Sapadin suggested. You can say, “John, John, sorry to interrupt, but…” or “Amanda, I’m really sorry, I’ve got to cut in, I just would love to make a point here.”

Interrupting on a date

A date who keeps talking about himself without letting you speak might be an indication that you don’t want to go on a second date, Post said. So let them talk away, smile and nod, and don’t schedule another rendezvous.

Still, she tends to give people the benefit of the doubt.

“You’re usually pretty nervous on a first date and even if you’re not nervous, you’re just unsure of who this other person is, what they’re going to like, and for a lot of people, that means motor mouth,” Post said.

“They forget how to let other people ask questions, they forget to have a back and forth.”

Post would refrain from outwardly calling your date out on it. Try to do your best to redirect the conversation and include some things about yourself, she advised.

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