How to Quit a Toxic Interrupting Habit
To stop cutting people off, learn to be a better listener
Whether or not you realize you’re doing it, interrupting is always a power play.
It can be a useful tactic, a way to assert yourself when other people are drowning you out — if you need to regain control of an interview that’s going off track, for example, or everyone is talking over you in a meeting. It’s not an ideal way to communicate, but sometimes it’s a necessary means for asserting yourself.
Sometimes, though, an interruption is less a necessity and more a toxic conversational tic. Especially if your interrupting is a habit, it can come across as an announcement to whoever’s speaking that their thoughts are less pressing than yours, that you don’t have time for whatever they’re about to say, that this conversation has only one member who really matters.
If you’re a woman trying to be heard in an office full of men, you probably know this all too well. Interrupting is often a gendered act: Research has shown that men, who are socialized to be assertive, are more likely to interrupt conversations than women, who are socialized to be accommodators. In one 2014 study, male subjects interrupted an average of 2.1 times during a three-minute conversation with a woman, but when they were talking to other men, that number dropped to 1.8.
Interrupters usually don’t intend to convey self-importance. Often, the desire to interrupt stems from excitement or social anxiety. Human beings also crave cognitive closure, a psychological concept that effectively means the opposite of ambiguity. We like firm answers and conclusions. We’re psychologically wired to tie up loose ends. Interrupting can feel good because it allows you to neatly tie up a thought that might get lost or transformed as the conversation continues. Often, when someone else is speaking, we’re not listening so much as waiting for our turn.
And sometimes interrupting can even contain a cruel irony: Often, the person doing it is cutting off their conversational partner out of a desire to bond — finishing the other’s sentences or guessing what they’re getting at before hearing them out.