How to Stop Interrupting People in Virtual Meetings

July 20, 2020

In this new world of remote work, it takes extra effort to be a good listener. And if you’re prone to interrupting others, video calls aren’t making it any easier to break that habit! It’s tough to gauge when someone is finished speaking and when it’s your turn to contribute. 

I struggle with this myself, especially over video calls. That’s the reason I watched Dorie Clark’s course, Improving Your Listening Skills. “Interrupting is one of the most common conversational sins, but it can be incredibly hard to stop yourself," she says.

Clark shares that often when you don’t allow someone to speak, you convey your voice is more important than theirs. Yikes. This is never my intention. 

Learn more in the course “Improving Your Listening Skills”

To stop yourself from interrupting and start actively listening, try these three tips from Clark’s course. They've worked well for me. And by doing these three things I've also gotten better and more accurate information from my conversations and even connected with your colleagues on a much deeper level.

1. Take notes

“When you notice yourself cutting the other person off, stop,” says Clark. “You're not giving them enough conversational space. You have to let them finish.”

Try writing down what the other person is saying. This will distract you from trying to jump in and ensure you don't forget the point you want to make or question you want to ask. Y'all: this has been a game changer for me! Not only do I avoid the awkward interrupting, but  when I do respond, I’m able to be more thoughtful and grounded. 

2. Focus on your breath

Another good strategy is to focus on something physical, like breathing. 

Especially when we’re in a tense conversation or feeling criticized, our heart rate goes up and we get into fight or flight mode. Interrupting becomes a way to defend ourselves. 

Focus on your breathing and you’ll be less likely to cut someone off. Follow each breath in and out, which will help to slow down your heart rate. 

It’s a seemingly simple technique, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it allows you to focus and listen! 

For me, it also helps me realize that what I feel is so urgent to say can actually wait. Since I started practicing this, I feel much more grounded at the end of my day because I've actively tuned into my breath at times when I would typically jump into the conversation. 

3. Pretend you’re interviewing the person

Clark shares a final strategy from a friend of hers who’s a documentary filmmaker. 

“When she's interviewing people for work she can't interrupt them because it would ruin the footage,” says Clark. “No one wants to hear her talking over the interview subject in the middle of a movie. So she has to wait until they're completely finished, and then ask her follow-up question.”

This is a nice one to think about, especially since meetings are so often virtual or by phone these days. A pause is not an opening to respond. Think of it as an invitation for patience -- to listen more deeply so the other person can complete their thought.

Why managers need to listen more

Listening is an invisible skill,” says Clark. “It's not flashy. It doesn't announce itself. But it can be your secret weapon.”

This is especially true if you’re a manager or in any leadership position. When you stop interrupting and truly listen, you’ll open yourself up to new levels of compassion, empathy, and trust with your teams. 

Listening allows you to access the nuances and root causes of difficult situations so that you can problem solve more effectively. It’s also a powerful way to show people that you care about them and want to hear their perspective. When your teams feel heard, they’ll feel respected. And that will fuel better relationships and a more productive, healthy, and inclusive working environment.

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