How to Handle Interruptions
from Others

Interrupting a Phone Call

Do you feel as though you are constantly dodging interruptions? Our days seem to be filled with them. From calls or texts coming in during the middle of an important task to your significant other starting a conversation just as you reach a pivotal point in the book you are reading, interruptions will always be a thorn in our side.

What is important is how we react to the interferences caused by other people. Do we make our annoyance obvious?  Do we set aside our own needs to appease others?  The answer comes down to what would be most respectful to not only the interrupter, but to ourselves.

The Annoyance of Interruptions

Being interrupted is biologically annoying as well as being psychologically irritating. According to Professor Sophie Leroy at the University of Washington’s School of Business, “Interruptions are difficult for the brain to execute as we have a fundamental need for completion…When interrupted we have to put aside unfinished work and the mind is going to fight with us because it doesn’t like it.”

Furthermore, our brain performance and quality of decisions go down the more we are interrupted. We may be fooled into thinking that multitasking or switch-tasking allows us to be more productive, but the truth is, our productivity suffers.

All the attention-switching required from interferences causes mental fatigue. So, it’s no wonder that annoyance exists in this realm as well. And in many cases, the level of annoyance is directly proportionate to the level of fatigue experienced.

Maintaining Respect with Interrupters

The desire to be an etiquette-ful person will help you in aiming for respect when someone interrupts your task at hand. It is also helpful to consider that person’s perspective. Often others are pre-occupied with their own tasks and concerns and would not intend to be considered interruptive. It’s only fair to spare them of your reactivity.

When interrupted, you might respond by saying . . .

  • “Please, come in past the doorway. Let me jot down a couple things here and then I will give you my full attention.”
  • “Mark, this sounds urgent, but may I get back to you in five minutes? I must first complete a few more sentences of this email or I will lose my thoughts.”
  • “Chris, I understand that this is important. Would you be amenable to my waiting until this evening to share my thoughts?”
  • “Renee, I know you want to add something here. Is it ok if I finish what I was saying before we move on?”

In all four of these scenarios, the other person has been acknowledged kindly while you are honoring yourself and your situation.

When giving a talk or speaking at a meeting, interruptions are especially annoying.  Not only has your train of thought been disrupted, but your performance has as well.  You might prevent this from occurring if you:

  • Let the audience or group know that you anticipate and value questions and ask them to hold until you’ve finished talking.
  • If one person dominates during the Q & A, expecting you to answer, pause before asking for other questions, and mention that you’d enjoy discussing her question afterwards.
  • Or if a person has interrupted you repeatedly, you might say to the group, “We’ve heard from Tom a few times. Do others have questions?

Other courteous ways to handle people who tend to be interruptive:

  • Address the problem head on. “Jonathon, I notice that I’m feeling interrupted. Is there something that we might address later?”
  • Ask the person if they have a point to make that you haven’t made, and when they finish, thank them for their input. Remember to smile!
  • “Don, my brain is not doing well getting my day back on track with the many distractions I’ve allowed myself today. Could we please schedule a time to talk about this?”

Looking at the bright side and finding the value in an interruption may just lead into opportunities for further connection. Despite the disruptiveness of these occurrences, understanding the perspective of others will help you maintain a positive note.

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