I awoke this morning to the sound of a Today Programme Pas de Deux. It’s that familiar dance between an interviewer who doesn’t listen and an interviewee who doesn’t answer. In this instance, shadow chancellor John Mc Donnell was asked about alleged anti-Semitism in his party – “Why does it keep happening?” He got approximately 15 words into his response (it sounded as if he was actually addressing the issue rather than batting it aside). But he was interrupted by a repetition of the same question. He held his ground, called out the unnecessary interruption and finished his sentence.
I don’t know about you but I’m tired of this type of interview. And it’s not just in broadcasting that people have developed the habit of interrupting each other (and failing to listen). I find myself working with individuals from many sectors – law, finance, communications, consulting – who complain that they are shut down in meetings by peers and more senior colleagues.
How to stop this annoying scenario? There’s much the ‘interruptee’ can do:
- Learn to speak with clarity
- Lead with your ‘headline’ rather than the background/evidence
- Avoid saying the same thing several times in slightly different ways. Say it once and stop
- Develop a bank of phrases to draw attention to the interruption (my personal favourite, at the point of the interruption is “I was in there”). Humour can work well, depending on the context
- In cases of ‘mansplaining’, develop your own phrases for congratulating the ‘splainer’ for their support of your idea!
But what about the interrupters? How can they learn to zip it?
Let’s follow Bill Krause’s example (ex CEO of 3Com). He recognises how unproductive it is to close down other people’s ideas but struggles to give them the space they need. He acknowledges that he has a tendency to say too much.
His trick, therefore, to help him stay silent while others are speaking, is to repeatedly write down on his note pad these three letters – DNT.
Do Not Talk!