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

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Roberta Satow Ph.D.

Roberta Satow is a New York-based psychoanalyst, speaker, and author of Doing the Right Thing: Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents Even if They Didn’t Take Care of You, Gender and Social Life, and the novel: Two Sisters of Coyoacán. She is a professor emerita of the department of sociology at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York. Dr. Satow speaks and writes about issues of aging, gender, and mental health. She has been quoted in The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, on ABC News and other national media platforms. She gave the keynote addresses at the EAP Symposium on Diversity and Well-being for the National Defence Department of Canada, Ottawa, and the New York City Dept. of Aging White House Conference on Aging. She has also appeared on The Diane Rehm Show, AARP, Prime Time Radio, and several other NPR programs.View Author posts