I just read your blog Boss Talks Over You? and wow—can I relate! My problem is similar. My boss constantly interrupts me while I am speaking in meetings. She causes me to lose my focus by introducing a new, relevant topic even before I’m done with my introductory remarks.
I am so tired of it and need to make it stop, but have no idea how.
What to do?
Dear Losing Patience
This is clearly an epidemic. We can hope that all of the folks reading this column who are interrupters might recognize themselves and cut it out. But most people are oblivious to their tendency to interrupt; rather, they think of themselves as being excited and creative.
It is one thing to handle interruptions from peers—but when it’s your boss, it’s extra tricky. I offer a few possible approaches, all of which involve either taking a stand or letting it go. I suggest you develop a plan for deploying one of them, or a combination of all of them, depending on your circumstances.
Set expectations with your audience before you begin. It’s possible that when you set yourself up properly, you won’t need any other tactic. Before you start your presentation, say to everyone: “I am going to present the results of the survey, share the thinking my team has already done about the results, and then I’ll open the floor for questions and brainstorming. Does that work for everyone?” Basically, you are saying: I have a plan here, so please let me go ahead with it. That might just do the trick.
Speak to your boss offline. This takes some guts and is an option only if you have a decent relationship. To access your courage, you will want to script out what to say and practice with someone safe—a friend, partner, or colleague. You will need to state your position and make a request: “When I am presenting and you interrupt, it really throws me. You always have value to add and your topics are always relevant, so I really want to hear what you have to say. My request is that you save your new topics for after we have finished with the task at hand.” Honestly, if one of my people said that to me, I would be mortified and would be on my best behavior, at least for a while.
There is a very good chance that your boss has no idea she is interrupting and is, therefore, oblivious to any effect it has on you. She probably does it to everyone—so you actually could end up making life better for your entire department. Of course, you run the risk of offending your boss and damaging the relationship, so it will be a judgment call for you.
Practice dealing with it in the moment. You might combine this approach with #1. When you are interrupted, gently redirect:
“That’s a great idea—let’s put it up on the white board parking lot so we can come back to it in the debrief.”
“Would you mind holding that thought for right now, so we can focus on ____________?”
“Please let me finish my thought.”
“It would be really helpful if we could stay focused on this part—but I look forward to getting to your great idea in a moment.”
There is no guarantee it will work, but it won’t be a good look for your boss, and it probably will.
Prepare for an interruption. Be emotionally ready for it. Find a way to maintain focus and manage your negative emotions. Be prepared to be interrupted and decide it doesn’t matter. Breathe, let it go, engage in the new conversation, and just let it be okay. If you are worried you will lose focus and forget where you were, jot down a note to yourself with the beginning of what you were about to say. When it makes sense, jump back in: “Okay, great! Let’s get back to the results. The next thing I wanted to share is …” This approach is an option only if you can really let it go, not hold a grudge and let resentment build. Resentment is corrosive and will end up ruining the relationship if left to fester. So if you really like your boss and respect her quick mind, her creativity, and how her thinking improves everyone else’s thinking, you might be able to make this one work.
At least when you are a boss, you won’t interrupt. You have that going for you. Good luck with this.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.