Why People Interrupt

Don’t you hate it when people interrupt you? Is it just rudeness? Or is it something more?

Something can be rude, but also have an explanation. An explanation does not have to be an excuse.

With interruptions, the most likely explanation is anxiety. Anxiety is, after all, the explanation for most irrational or dysfunctional behaviors. The more anxious people become, the less reasonable their emotions and actions.

WHAT is an interrupting person anxious about? It will vary from person to person. Sometimes it’s a fear of not being heard. Sometimes it’s a desire to control the conversation. Sometimes it’s a way to block out subjects one finds undesirable, or to change the subject. Sometimes it’s an inability or unwillingness to remain quiet, at least without having an anxiety or panic attack. Some people are frightened of silence because they falsely believe it means they’re boring. Others dislike silence because they cannot stand to be alone with their thoughts, not even for a moment.

The decision to interrupt is not usually a consciously planned out one. It usually represents a split-second, largely subconscious “decision.” It doesn’t feel like a decision to the interrupter, because it happens so quickly. That doesn’t mean it’s not a decision.

Most who interrupt others feel some remorse over the fact they do it. They might not even realize they’re doing it because, as I said, the decision to do so is split-second. People vary in their willingness to admit error. Some will defensively insist they do not interrupt, even though they do, because they don’t like to think of themselves as doing it. Those willing to consider they’re interrupting obviously have a better shot at changing the behavior, especially once they discover the cause.

Interruption can be a form of competition. Competition can be a rational and healthy thing. But when you feel like you’re competing against others who don’t care to compete, it’s irrational. Spouses or close friends sometimes interrupt to keep you from saying something they believe you should not say. Most of the time it’s not appreciated. Most of us don’t like being told what to do, particularly by our spouses … even if they happen to be right sometimes!

If someone keeps interrupting, you basically have three choices: (1) give in and be a victim; (2) argue with the person that he’s interrupting when he probably will not admit it; or (3) get around the interruption. There are numerous ways to get around it. One major way is simply to stop talking. Dramatize the situation to make a point. It’s an on-the-spot way of showing the person he’s interrupting rather than simply accusing him. Be nice about it. “No, that’s OK. Go ahead with what you want to say.” Some might label this passive-aggressive. But it can be effective. It gets the point across without having to engage in an argument or debate, and it sometimes even gets the behavior changed.

It’s not always the interrupter who’s to blame. Some people cannot or will not shut up. They don’t know how to condense their points, or they don’t wish to do so. It might be a lack of skill, and most often it is. Interruption in such a situation is nothing more than survival. It even does the person you’re interrupting a favor, because it saves him from himself, at least for a few moments.

In the worst case, a narcissist personality feels entitled not to be interrupted. Narcissists feel entitled to everything. Technically, the narcissist is right; people do interrupt the narcissist all the time. But this is because he wants to hog the floor. He thinks it’s in his self-interest, but actually it’s not, because he alienates people who promptly tune out when he opens his mouth to go on and on. This does not occur to the narcissist, because he falsely believes nobody else has the very same needs he does.

For these and other reasons, interruption is not automatically and always wrong. Sometimes it’s even a good thing.

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