Does Being Interrupted Drive You Crazy? Here’s How To Respond

Does Being Interrupted Drive You Crazy

“Now there is nothing in this world I abominate worse than to be interrupted in a story…” ― Laurence Sterne, The Life, and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Key Points:

There are three types of interrupters; beware the narcissistic interrupter.

The motivations of interrupters are different, and the responses to them should differ.

Understanding the motivation of the other person takes the sting out of interruptions.

During the pandemic, many of us replaced in-person get-togethers with Zoom meetings. For many people, virtual get-togethers were an important antidote to the loneliness and boredom of being at home alone or with a partner.

However, phone or Zoom conversations are prone to interruptions. Sometimes the speaker invites interruption. People are more desperate to communicate and may speak for longer periods without allowing for a response. It is also harder to intuit a listener’s response when you cannot see them crossing their legs or wiggling in their chair.

But most of the time interrupters are serial interrupters and their response is not related to the speaker. In my experience there are three major types of serial interrupters and determining the best way of responding to them requires distinguishing between them.

Types of Interrupters

1. The narcissistic interrupter.

This person is thinking about what he/she wants to say while you are talking. The purpose of the interruption is to take over and change the direction of the conversation.

Speaker: “I’m really upset about my grandson who doesn’t want to go to school.”

Interrupter: “My grandson is getting married to the daughter of a Senator. They are going to have to ceremony at the Plaza…”

Related: 15 Things Narcissists Don’t Do

2. The empathic interrupter.

This person is listening to you and thinking about what you’ve said. She wants to expand on what you are saying or underscore that she understands it by offering a similar experience.

Speaker: “I’m really upset about my grandson who doesn’t want to go to school.”

Interrupter: “Yes, that’s really upsetting it happened with my son when he was little…”

3. The mind-reading interrupter.

This person is listening to you and finishes your sentences.

Speaker: “I’m really upset about my grandson who doesn’t want to go to school. I’m afraid…”

Interrupter: “…he has a phobia.”

Speaker: “Yes, he has a phobia. My daughter isn’t worried about it, but…”

Interrupter: “You think she ought to be.”

The first type of interrupter is the most provocative because he (men are more likely to be narcissistic interrupters) is not listening to you and not interested in what you are saying. You are being pushed aside.

The second and third types of interrupters, on the other hand, are listening to you and want to show their interest and express support for you. The empathic interrupter is not trying to take over the conversation or change the direction of it. Rather, she is encouraging you to continue speaking. The third type of interrupter is over-involved in what you are saying. She cannot wait for you to finish your sentence before she offers her support and understanding.

Despite the differences in the motivation of interrupters, many people respond to them in the same way. For example, Tom is a retired litigator. He is accustomed to interrupting witnesses when he is cross-examining them, but he is not used to being interrupted himself. When he is interrupted on a Zoom call with friends, he gets angry and tells the other person not to interrupt him: “I’m not finished yet;” or “Stop interrupting me;” or “Let me finish.”

Karen is also unaccustomed to being interrupted. She was a world-renowned lecturer on cultural subjects before she retired. Like Tom, she is indignant about interruptions regardless of the person’s motivation. But she does not say anything to the friend/perpetrator, rather she withdraws and pouts.

Related: 14 Handy Social Skills That’ll Make You More Likable Instantly

Just as the motivations of interrupters vary, so should the responses. We can reduce our blood pressure when we are interrupted by friends and relatives if we focus on why the person is interrupting. Is it a narcissistic interruption? Then it might be useful to say: “Please don’t interrupt me in the middle of the story;” or “Please don’t change the subject when I’m explaining something to you.”

On the other hand, if it’s an empathic interruption, which can also be frustrating, you might say: “I know you are being supportive, but it would be easier for me to talk about it if you let me finish;” or “I know you understand what I’m saying, but I need to get it all out first.”

Finally, in response to a mind-reading listener who constantly finishes your sentences, you might say: “I know I speak slowly, and I am grateful that you understand what I’m saying, but it’s upsetting when you finish my sentences;” or “I’m grateful that you understand what I’m feeling so well, but I need to express myself even if it takes me a while to figure out what I’m feeling. It would help me if you didn’t finish my sentences.”

In conclusion, most of us are both interrupters and interrupted. But we can interrupt less and feel less angry when we are interrupted by others if we understand the motivations for interruptions and develop responses that enhance rather than disrupt dialogues with our friends and family.


Written By Roberta Satow Ph.D.  
Originally Appeared On Psychology Today  
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