“Can I Finish?” Avoiding Interruptions in Meetings

In the conference room, frequent interruption is not only a sign of team discord, it’s —

— I totally agree! I was going to say something about interruption as well. What I think about interruption is…(OK, you get the point).

When I worked in healthcare consulting, I quickly learned that I had to fight a tendency to interrupt. If you’re a self-aware interrupter, you’ve probably spent some time reflecting on the root cause of the bad habit. For some it’s ego, or its close cousin stubbornness. For me, it was simply impatience. Does this meeting have a fast forward button?

No matter how you shake it, or what value you think you’re adding to the dialogue, frequent interruptions come with a social cost.

If your meetings are plagued by interruptions, design better meetings.

It’s up to the meeting organizer to clarify the context of the meeting: How much time do we have? What is the agenda? Is the purpose of this meeting to make a decision or to open a discussion?

By communicating clear expectations for a meeting, managers give themselves social permission to move the conversation along.

It’s also worth noting that meetings with frequent interruptions may be overcrowded. If you’re worried about everyone getting their two cents in, maybe you should cap the meeting at a dime instead of a quarter.

If interrupting is an epidemic for your team, it may be worth exploring the art of the transition.

There’s a fine line between an interruption and a transition. Learn it.


Simply put, a transition occurs at the end of a complete thought.

If Andru says, “I think we should switch from on-premise servers to cloud because –”

You would be interrupting until Andru tells us the “why.” If, he finishes the “why” and you can tell that the discussion on servers will not be resolved, you could then invoke a transition.

“Andru, I see the pros and cons of both. Let’s take this offline.” Or, “Let’s discuss at our meeting next week.”

Active listeners speak by building off the last statement.

In improv, there’s a common exercise called Yes And. The gist is simple: speak in response to the last thing said. By focusing on the last sentence uttered, you avoid getting trapped in your head with expired thoughts. Oh – I have a thought about servers too! I’m going to say it. Because I was looking at our storage the other day, and it’s a lot cheaper to go cloud. And I know how to migrate the data too, and I’m going to say that too…

As you meticulously assemble your perfect thought, your window to add relevant information has passed. In fact, Andru might have just said your same thought and you totally missed it! If only you had trusted Andru to bring to the table the same brilliant thought that you had, you wouldn’t have embarrassed yourself by interrupting with redundant information.

Beginning improv technique teaches a group to speak in one voice by establishing trust. If you’re not the one to say “the right thing,” someone else on stage will. And if they don’t, the group artfully works together to bring the message back on track.

Discord becomes fleeting, transitions fluid, and teams become happier. For a quick not-that-weird active listening exercise to try out in your next scrum, check out Word at a Time Story. For more thoughts on active listening, have a look at Improv and the Doctor Patient Relationship.

Happy Meetings to You All –


Chris Severn delivers corporate trainings through improv comedy techniques for organizations in the Bay Area. Visit improvbridge.com  or email improvbridge@gmail.com to schedule a an introductory class. 






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