The Brilliant Tactic of Polite Interruption at the Office

Scenario #1: As the conversation around the table drones on, you look at the clock on the wall and give a small sigh because there are a thousand other things you need to get done. Yet, you’re stuck in a meeting that has gone wildly off track. If you’re not the one who called the meeting, is it rude to interrupt and refocus the group on the original purpose of the meeting?


Scenario #2: You love this vendor as she always gets you the things you need ASAP, seemingly no matter when you call her. She’s bright, funny and incredibly good at what she does, but she never seems to shut up when she drops by your office. Last month, she talked for 40 minutes … about her brother’s surgery! You wish there was a foolproof way to cut her visit time down by, say, 95 percent! Would interrupting such a valued business asset be rude?

Ahhhh, the art of interrupting people. When wielded correctly, a powerful communication tool. When not used the right way … woof … awkward! So the question is, how do you interrupt without being rude or closing the door to future conversations?

Dealing with … and interrupting … the chatty vendor or co-worker   

Get control from the start by defining the agenda and time, suggests Mary McIntyre for When you agree to an appointment, state how much time you have: “I can see you at 3 p.m. for 30 minutes, Kathy.” At that point, it’s best to mention what you’d like to cover. Or, if you wait until the time of the appointment, say something like: “Here’s what I’d like to go over today ….”

Even though you’ve laid some time-limiting groundwork, good old Kathy may just be one of those people who can’t stick to the schedule. She knows a lot about her service, and she’s been trained to deliver her key selling points in a specific order. Keep an eye on the time. When it’s running short, you may need to politely interrupt“Kathy, let me stop you there. Since we only have 10 minutes left, I want to be sure we cover all the price and delivery options. What information do you have about that?”

  1. If you reach the end of your allotted time, and the end of the presentation is in sight, it’s your call on whether to cut the meeting short. If you must wrap it up, say something positive, such as, “Kathy, you’ve really given me a lot to think about. Unfortunately, it looks as though we’re not going to finish today. Would it be possible for you to email me details of our discussion, and add in the information about shipping that we weren’t able to cover?” Then stand up. There will be a little polite banter as you walk Kathy to the door. Be sure to use her name, and end with a sincere, “I really enjoyed our time” or “I look forward to hearing from you.”
  2. Another option would be to give a quick recap of the meeting as time is getting short. “So thanks for explaining your program, Kathy. It sounds like our best bet if we go with your system would be the [blank]. I’ll take a closer look at all this tonight and let you know.” By summarizing the content of the discussion, you’re signaling that the conversation is wrapping up, says Lisa B. Marshall for
  3. A third option Marshall suggests is to make an excuse. “Thanks for sharing all this great information, Kathy. I’m going to need to wrap our visit up, or I’ll be late to my next appointment.”

How to interrupt politely during a meeting

Another key time to get comfortable interrupting is in a meeting. If it’s your meeting that you called, you have a lot more power to keep conversation on track. If one person is dominating the conversation, or has taken the discussion in a direction that has little to do with the topic, it’s up to you to redirect.

If a participant is rallying people around an idea by summarizing inaccurately, speaking up is critical. Other meeting attendees are looking to you to keep things on course. Some good options:

  1. Getting back on track: “John, let me stop you there for just a moment. Although the information you’re talking about is interesting, it isn’t something we have time to delve into today. So, let’s get back to our topic. Brenda, you had mentioned expanding … Does anyone else have ideas to add?” Or simply say: “John, I’m not sure I see how this relates to … Can you explain the connection?”
  2. Stopping a dominator: “John, let me make sure I understand what you’re saying.” Follow your interruption with a brief summary and maybe a quick question. Then ask for input from others. Sometimes the person dominating the conversation just wants to feel they’re being heard and understood and isn’t consciously trying to take over.
  3. To stop inaccurate information: “John, I can appreciate your view. But I’m not sure I agree with your assessment of our choices ….”

These tactics can still work even if you’re not in charge of the meeting. In this case, you need to know the person in charge and act accordingly. If you know they wouldn’t be offended by you speaking up, go ahead and do it. If the host is extremely possessive of the meeting, you’ll have to be a bit more subtle. However, the point is that you don’t have another hour in the day to listen to John blather on so it isn’t rude to interrupt and get back on topic.

Interrupting is sometimes necessary in business. Learn to speak up when things start going off track. This will make you more effective in the business world. And, it will make you feel more in control of your time and outcomes.

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