Interrupting Is Not Necessarily Rude

by Stephen Boyd | January 31, 2005

When a person is talking to us, we usually consider interrupting him or her as rude and inappropriate. But there are times when it is OK and, in fact, quite suitable. For example, if you do not get the person's name when introduced, get the name before you continue the conversation. Say, "Excuse me; please give me your name again." This will compliment the person instead being insulting because it shows you really want to know him or her.

Another time to interrupt is if you don't understand a word the person says. Then you can interrupt and ask for a definition. "Excuse me. I'm not familiar with that word. Would you explain it to me?" It is a waste of time for both of you if you do not know the definition of a key word in the conversation. Asking for the definition might also help the other person give you more explanation to increase your understanding.

Some people have a hard time being concise and direct in conversation. If the point is unclear, it is appropriate to interrupt gently and say, "Excuse me, I want to make sure I'm getting your point. What I hear you saying is'." This is a sensitive situation, but when done kindly can help the overall quality of the conversation.

A person may start a conversation with you when you are expecting a phone call or have a meeting soon. Maybe you are having a hard time concentrating, so you can interrupt and say, "I'm having a hard time concentrating because I'm expecting a phone call. Let's have this conversation at.'" If you don't stop the person, he or she might think you are uninterested because you are fidgeting and perhaps stealing a glance at your watch. Thus you show your concern for the person and your interrupting eliminates the possibility of losing credibility in the eyes of the other person.

Finally, don't be afraid to interrupt if the topic is confidential or inappropriate for the situation you are in. People sometimes may not appreciate the hidden agenda or the culture of the occasion and be oblivious to the impact of what he or she is saying. You might say, "I'm sorry, but I think this topic would best be discussed at a later date," or "Why don't we go to a more private area to discuss this?"

I'm certainly not condoning interrupting as a common conversation technique, but under special conditions such as the ones mentioned in this article, interrupting can be a conversation enhancement.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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