Tackling the Challenge of Interrupting

Kanye West interrupting acceptance speech

Interrupting – we all do it. Some of us do it more frequently or consistently than others and individuals with ADHD are often among the more consistent or frequent interrupters. In fact, interrupting is one of the signs of ADHD listed in the DSM IV in the Hyperactivity-Impulsivity category: “Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).”

Because interrupting is not socially appropriate in most situations, and can be a problem both at work and in personal relationships, some clients may want to address this behavior in coaching. Several coaches recently shared about this topic on the ACO list-serve including Maureen Nolan, Warren Simonoff and Christine Pollock.

Some Coaching Questions to Consider

  • When do you notice yourself interrupting? When do others tell you that you interrupt?
  • What relationship, if any, do you notice between interrupting and over-excitement and agitation?
  • What are you gaining from interrupting?
    • making sure a thought is shared before it disappears?
    • being heard, noticed, appreciated?
    • a stimulating adrenalin rush?
  • What do you think the effect on others is when you interrupt?
  • What are you losing by interrupting?
  • What would happen if you didn’t interrupt?
    • If you forgot what you had wanted to say?
    • Are you willing to forget if it reduces your interrupting?
  • How good a listener do you think you are? What makes a good listener?

Some Coaching Strategies to Be Aware Of

1. Tally interruptions.

Christine Pollock describes the value of monitoring oneself by tallying interruptions. To raise your awareness and prepare for some goal setting, discretely tally your interruptions during a meeting or typical conversation, then set a personal goal of interrupting no more than _____ times. You can continue tallying to monitor success.

2. Use a signal.

Another way to increase your awareness is to give a trusted person, such as a spouse or close friend permission to use an agreed-upon signal each time you interrupt.

3. Silently repeat what you hear.

We think much faster than we speak. So, in conversations or meetings, repeat the speakers’ words in your head to help maintain a focus on what is being said rather than on your own thoughts. Fidgeting can also help maintain focus when listening.

4. Take notes.

Instead of interrupting because you are afraid you’ll lose that important idea, jot down your key thoughts during a conversation or meeting so that you can “hold onto” them to bring up later if appropriate.

5. Understand neurochemistry.

Understanding the neurochemistry involved in interrupting can be empowering. First, individuals with ADHD tend to have lower levels of dopamine in the brain, which leads to greater impulsivity including interrupting. Warren Simonoff recalls a Navy Seals’ study suggesting that when one is confronted by a stressor, the brain’s amygdala (part of the limbic system) pumps out both adrenaline and cortisol. These “stress” chemicals activate a minute or so prior to one’s logical brain system, the prefrontal cortex. “If a client is stressed, there is then a hair trigger tripping the ADHD circuit breaker. At that point the blurt begins, Simonoff suggests.

6. Breathe.

If you notice over-arousal during a conversation, use light or slow breathing with a full exhale to get more oxygen to the brain and to reduce stress and overwhelm in the moment.

7. Use yoga/meditation.

Practice yoga and/or meditation to build mindfulness as well as increase relaxation. You may experience a gradual effect on interrupting over time, several coaches suggest.

8. Visualize success.

Mentally rehearse not interrupting during conversations or meetings.

9. Practice forgetting.

Maureen Nolan suggests this approach: starting in low-stress, low-stakes situations, in a coaching session or perhaps at home, practice allowing yourself to forget. Notice what it feels like.

Willingness to forget can lead to

  • more presence in the moment,
  • more control over memory,
  • greater choice about interrupting, and
  • both less stress as well as better social skills.

10. Focus on listening. Focus on a goal of listening rather than speaking. In a meeting or conversation, make it your purpose to fully understand the other person’s experience or point of view. Pollock suggests mentally “shining the light” on the speaker to help with this.

11. Learn about listening. Read about effective listening – lots of information can be found online – or take a listening course, such as the one offered by Coach U, suggests Simonoff. A quick Google search on listening skills classes yielded this list of classes among others.

12. Apologize if needed.

If you do interrupt, apologize (“I’m sorry, please continue…”) and move on!

Elizabeth Ahmann, ScD, RN, ACC

PS – I hate to interrupt this list, but in case you are interested, here’s a link to a video clip of psychologist Ari Tuckman offering tips on how to stop interrupting.