Strategic Interrupting

Strategic Interrupting

“Shut your f’ing pie hole” – Drill Instructor Sgt Smith, USMC

Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been taught that interrupting people is just incredibly rude. And often times it is. But as I continue to grow up, I realize that sometimes you JUST HAVE TO! Unfortunately, there are people that simply don’t know how to shut the hell up. At some point, before God sent those people down to planet Earth, they somehow missed the day that he was handing out the ability pick up on basic social cues. Because of my upbringing, and because I somehow seem to have a knack for attracting those types of people into my life…“blabber-mouths,” I’ve learned to become a REALLY good listener. All of my life, people have told me that I have the gift of “Listening.” No. Not really…I just didn’t know how to shut those damn people up!

I very vividly remember a good friend of mine in high school who just LOVED talking to me on the phone. And she could talk for hours about the most meaningless, mundane things. And because I didn’t know how to interrupt her, I LISTENED. Or so she thought. I will confess…there were times where I would put the phone down, take care of something or eat dinner, and every so often would go back to the phone and give her that ‘uh huh’ to show I was still listening. Then I would go right back to what I was doing. Yeah…I guess I was a bit of an ass!

In a business environment, specifically a sales environment…this can really complicate things. In training people in call centers, one of the things that inevitably comes up is how to cut those types of people off without appearing rude or without making them feel you are rushing them off of the phone. You see, in a typical call center, one of the key metrics that a person might be graded on is the ‘average length of call.’ When you are personally taking over a hundred calls a day, you simply do not have the time to chit chat with people, because you NEED to get to the next caller before they decide to hang up and you potentially lose that client. In a typical busy service department in the auto industry, you need to have an appointment booked and all notes entered into the system in under 3 minutes. And so when you get ‘grandma’ on the phone wanting to share her entire life story (believe me, there are old people out there who call companies just so they can talk to someone)…we need to be able to efficiently cut them off while still delivering excellent customer service (they are the same people who will take the time to write a multi-page complaint letter if they feel they’ve been treated rudely).

So what do you do???

First off, it helps to understand what is going on in their mind, and their world. Remember…blabber-mouths are ACCUSTOMED to being interrupted. If they are blabber-mouths to you, surely they are blabber-mouths to others they communicate with. And if those ‘others’ want to get a word in, they need to interrupt. And many (if not most) don’t do it as caringly as you wish to do it. So no matter what, you will not appear in any way rude to them. They are so used to getting interrupted that in their mind, this is how people communicate. And so they will interrupt you as well.

The specific technique I’d like to introduce you to is what I call the “Yes…And” technique. So what is the “Yes…And” technique you might ask? This specific technique is all about finding some kind of common ground with the talker. Specifically, you are listening for a word or phrase you can ‘latch’ onto and express agreement with. And at that point, you ADD your own input to whatever the talker is speaking about. At this point, you can begin to guide your way back to the original topic. If you are skilled in controlling the conversation through asking questions, begin asking questions which will gently guide the person back to where you want them.

YOU: “Me and my kids were driving up the most spectacular mountain range, and…”
TALKER: “Just like when my wife and I went to HI and we saw this huge waterfall, and as we drove next to it, there was this double rainbow! Just like the one on that crazy ‘Double Rainbow’ YouTube video with that totally whacked out dude. You HAVE to check this video out on YouTube, they’ve got some of the funniest things on…”
YOU: “YES! Me and my saw that video last week! That guy was crazy! AND my kids were totally talking just like that guy when we were driving up that mountain range, because it was just as gorgeous as that rainbow!…”

Please remember, it is not about the specific words “Yes…and.” It can be something like “I TOTALLY get what you’re saying” or “Absolutely!”

I was just yesterday doing some one on one sales coaching with someone, when in the middle of my sentence, he said something to the effect of “You know, I really like your teaching style…you remind me of [SOME RANDOM SPORTS GUY NAME I NEVER HEARD OF]. Do you like sports? What sport are you into?” At this point, I knew the guy was about to tangent off to some crazy unrelated story (as was his pattern). So what I did at this point was answer his question (I answered with something I personally knew he wouldn’t be incredibly knowledgeable on, MMA)…to which he began to give me some sort of boxing analogy. I waited for a few short moments to find a word or phrase I could grab on to. In this case, hitting someone hard with a knockout punch. At that point, I interjected “EXACTLY!! That’s totally what I felt like when I said [WHATEVER I WAS TEACHING AT THE TIME] to the guy…it was like I had him pinned to the ropes, and the deal was in the bag. SOLD! Knock out! Game over….and this is why you should ….” At that point, I was back in control and doing the talking.

I’ve found that this technique works the best in most general situations, both in phone and in person. The biggest benefit is that it is extremely covert, and your opponent ‘ speaking partner’ won’t have a clue what you just did, if done eloquently.
A couple of other techniques that I find very useful, but are more limited in scope:

This particular phrase works great in a meeting or environment where you are leading or facilitating:

“In a moment we’re going to go back to ____, but go ahead and finish telling your story.”

This essentially lets the talker know in a very eloquent manner that they have just interrupted the flow of something, but they have permission to wrap things up. At this point, there is some pressure felt on the talker to hurry up and come back to the original topic.

I find I use the “Pause” button occasionally when the situation warrants and I have enough rapport with the person I’m ‘pausing’ to speak. It can be a very gentle way to get your word in before it is too late.

“I’m gonna put you on pause for just a moment because…”

It is usually necessary to accompany this with some type of visual signal such as putting you hand in front of you, fingers outstretched, palm towards them, as if you are telling them to stop. If possible, also stand at the same time. While this might seem abrupt, I’ve used this very successfully, often with people in a much higher position of authority than myself. The key is in the delivery. Deliver with humbleness, and people will usually stop to listen.

While I still consider myself a good listener, I’ve learned to quickly recognize the type of people that just won’t shut their mouth. And I am ok interrupting them.

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