Is interrupting an interruption?

 In Presence

During COVID, we came to expect interruptions by children, gardeners, and package deliveries. Some of those interruptions were endearing, highlights of a difficult time, such as the famous BBC interview with Professor Robert Kelly

Another, more insidious interruption in virtual meetings is the habit of interrupting others on the call. It was a problem in business meetings before the pandemic and has become a more significant issue since we all became remote workers. Bandwidth restrictions interfere with both audio and visual clarity. As soon as there are more than four people on a call, it’s challenging to follow an ordinary discourse, let alone a heated argument. 

Traditionally, we feel people interrupt each other to complete their turn or stop another person from completing theirs. However, recent research at Stanford shows that people view interruptions differently depending on whether they are high-intensity or low-intensity speakers. In the first category, you see everyone talking at the same time as a sign of engagement. You are uncomfortable with silence. On the other hand, low-intensity speakers prefer people to speak one at a time. 

In a virtual world, the research suggests high-intensity speakers must adjust and become more like low-intensity speakers. But it also asks, “Is interrupting an interruption?” The answer is, to some it is and to some, it is not. In any case, It takes patience to have conversations today. It seems almost everyone interrupts each other wanting to be heard, ignoring the fact that everyone else wants to be heard, too.

Businessman holding up the time out sign while in front of his computer

How can you deal with this effectively, so you get your chance without stepping all over everyone else? Here are four basic strategies

  1. Speak up. You may need to speak louder or stronger. You may need to stand up to be heard (even in virtual calls, standing up gives you more energy and presence) You may need to insist on being heard even when others want to shut you down. Be confident. Be loud. Be strong. And if you can’t be these, find someone to advocate for you.
  2. Turnabout is fair play. If you don’t listen to others, why should they listen to you? Instead, make sure that when others speak you let them know you’ve heard them by paraphrasing what you heard and asking them to confirm that what you thought you heard was indeed “IT!” 
  3. Become comfortable with silence. Take a breath rather than take a turn. Listen more and talk less. 
  4. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning. People have feelings. Express yours and encourage others to do the same. Just stating and recognizing feelings can make all the difference when you want to have a real conversation rather than a duel for the floor.

Learn More

For ideas on how to move from interrupter to listener, please see this post on our blog, K8sVoice – 3 lifehacks to increase your impact by doing what you’re already doing. 

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