Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options to
Interruptive Person

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Expert's Council

  The Web address of this page is http://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/interruptive.htm

Updated  01-25-2015

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      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An effective response occurs when you get your primary needs met well enough, and both people feel heard and respected enough.

      This article offers useful responses to the behavior of someone who interrupts you "too often." It assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • basic options for all responses

  • how to give effective feedback to someone

  • effective assertion and empathic listening skills.

      This brief YouTube video previews what you'll read in this article. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this Web site - I've simplified that to seven.

      Can you think of an adult or child who chronically interrupts you? How does that feel? What's your normal response - tolerate it? Seethe? Interrupt back? Talk louder? Avoid the person? Complain or whine? Get angry? Gossip? Pretend? Tune them out? Lose-lose responses like these usually degrade your self-respect, your communication outcomes, and your relationship.

A Better Way

      Imagine using these powerful options with your favorite interrupter/s. Read these options through before following any links...

  • Put your true Self in charge, and use process awareness to notice the interruptions and how they affect you. Common effects are hurt, irritation, and frustration.

  • Review your joint personal rights, and maintain a mutual-respect attitude. See the other person as unaware and probably wounded - not rude, insensitive, egotistic, or bad.

  • Check to see if you each have stable two-person awareness-bubbles. If not, that's a separate problem.

  • Check to see if you're talking too much (flooding) so s/he has to interrupt to "get a word in edgewise." Option - ask your partner if s/he feels you're monologing without pausing for a reaction.

  • Check to see if you're talking about something that doesn't interest your partner, or makes him/her uncomfortable, so s/he wants to change the subject. Another possibility is that your current communication needs clash. If so, offer win-win problem-solving.

  • Decide specifically what change/s you need from the other person now. Likely options include needing the other person to (a) be aware of your mutual communication dynamics, (b) respect your needs as equally important to his or hers, and (c) want to stop interrupting you so much. 

  • Ask if the other person is open to some constructive feedback. If not, that's a separate problem (e.g. defensiveness and distrust). If so...

  • Assert your need/s clearly and firmly, with steady eye contact - and expect resistance. A practical way to assert is to use a respectful ''I-message'' like this:

"(Name), when you regularly interrupt me, I feel disrespected, hurt, and irritated. I need you to want to be aware of this and to stop interrupting me."

      Common "resistances" to this assertion include...

denial ("I don't interrupt you that often.")

defensiveness and excuses ("It's not my fault, because..."),

blame ("If you'd shut up for awhile, I wouldn't need to."),

whining ("I just can't help it"),

anger ("Why are you always criticizing me?"), and...

over-apologizing ["I'm SO sorry - I'm so insensitive (and inferior)."]

  • Use respectful empathic listening with any resistances, and reassert your need calmly, without lengthy explanations. That can sound like...

"You feel you don't interrupt me too often."

"You feel you have to interrupt because I talk too much."

"You feel you can't control your interrupting."

"You feel I criticize you too much."

"You feel guilty and apologetic for interrupting me so often."

Empathic statements like these do not mean you agree with the other person - they simply affirm you hear what s/he is saying!

  • Notice the outcome of your assertion, and thank the other person if they stop interrupting you. If they continue to interrupt, enforce a behavioral limit with them, like...

  • Silently hold up a finger (count) each time they interrupt, and keep good eye contact; or..

  • Each time they interrupt, say something calmly like "I feel disrespected by you now;" or...

  • "The next time you interrupt me, I'm going to walk away / confront you / hang up / stop talking with you / ... (Define a consequence that you can enforce.)

  • Avoid taking responsibility for the person's interruptions - e.g. if s/he says something like "You have to remind me," say "No, I won't do that."  

      Pause and reflect on these response options. Do they seem realistic? Doable? Is there anything in the way of you're using them with your favorite interrupter/s? Experiment with them to experience their effectiveness! Then teach them to other people you care about - specially kids.

      Let's look briefly at the other case...

How Can I Stop Interrupting Others?

      Do others complain that you interrupt them too often - and/or do you feel guilty for doing so? If so, what have you already tried to curb that reflex? Has it worked?

      Premise - chronic or excessive interruptions usually signal that a false self rules your personality with this person. Where true, interruptions are a symptom of this primary problem . Typical subselves that disable your Self ( capital "S") and over-interrupt include various Inner Kids and diligent Guardian subselves like these...




Entitled One

Impatient One


Critic and/or Judge


       This premise suggests that to reduce impulsively interrupting others, work toward empowering your true Self and negotiating permanent changes with well-meaning subselves like these. If you're skeptical or curious about the reality of your subselves, try this safe experience, and read this letter to you


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common social behaviors. This article offers ways to respond effectively to an addicted person. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude,

  • clarity on your feelings, needs, and mutual rights, and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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