Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 18, Issue 27;   July 4, 2018: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II

Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II

by

Last updated: March 19, 2019

When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information, we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process.
A VoiceStation 500 speakerphone by Polycom

A VoiceStation 500 speakerphone, a popular type of teleconference speakerphone. By Polycom.

In a previous post, I examined several approaches to interrupting fellow meeting attendees relatively safely by using formal roles or informal customs. These methods cover many situations, but not every situation. For example, the meeting in question might not be a "standing meeting" — it might be a meeting of people who don't meet regularly, and who therefore haven't established formal roles like the Designated Digression Detector, or customs like the process check.

In addition to the tools described in that post, some other tools include seating position, courtesy, wit, deftness, confidence, courage, and whatever reserves of goodwill are present in the relationships among everyone in the situation, but most especially, in the relationship between the interrupter and the person interrupted. In this post and the next, I offer some thoughts about all these resources and how they can meet the needs of the interrupter. For convenience, I'll use the name Inez for the interrupter, and Steve for the speaker. Apologies to all the Inezes and Steves out there.

Seating position
In face-to-face meetings, seating yourself centrally gives you advantages when you want to interrupt. At the periphery of the meeting, interrupting is difficult because you're more likely to be out of the line of sight of most of your fellow attendees. This invisibility reduces the effectiveness of gestures such as raising your hand slightly off the table surface, or turning to face the speaker you're intending to interrupt. Seating position is even more important if the chair or facilitator is diligently managing the speaker queue.
In In face-to-face meetings,
seating yourself centrally
gives you advantages when
you want to interrupt
some virtual meetings, when most attendees are co-located and you're the one calling in, and when you're attending via the speaker/microphone placed in the center of the table, you have license to interrupt that co-located attendees do not. Unlike the co-located attendees, you can start speaking at any time. When you do, there's a good chance that everyone will fall silent immediately. Try it. The license derives from a belief that when remote attendees begin to speak, they haven't always discerned that someone was already speaking. Generally, that belief is invalid, but many people believe it anyway.
The relationship between interrupter and interrupted
If the relationship between Inez and Steve is limited, wounded, or otherwise in need of repair, or if Inez is less powerful organizationally than Steve, interruption can be dangerous. It can further wound a wounded relationship, or complicate the formation of a healthy relationship if one doesn't already exist. Unless the relationship is relatively healthy, with the exception of relatively dire emergencies, the wisest course for Inez is to sit quietly and let someone else interrupt.
So if you've repeatedly felt the need to interrupt a particular person over a sequence of meetings, strengthening your relationship with that person would be a wise move, because it will enable you to interrupt him or her with much lower risk of offense.
Courtesy
To be courteous is to show deference and respect for others. In some sense, then, the term courteous interruption is an oxymoron. One key to success is executing the interruption in a way that most will interpret as showing deference and respect for the person being interrupted.
For example, if Inez begins her interruption when Steve pauses to breathe, her interruption can seem like something else, because she began speaking during a pause. Similarly, she can interrupt when Steve pauses at punctuation — at the end of a sentence or in the space between two clauses.
Asking permission to interrupt is another way to use courtesy to disguise the interruption. And the really good news is that you don't actually need to wait to receive permission — asking is enough. Examples: "May I add one thing?" or, "Can I add one point?" Using the word add is helpful, especially when addition is not what's actually happening.
Courtesy-based techniques can seem to some to be a bit of a subterfuge. Using them too often renders them transparent and ineffective.

I'll continue next time with an examination of wit, deftness, confidence, and courage. First in this series  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: III  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Meetings:

Glow of lava reflected in steam plume east of Kupapa'u Point, on the Big Island of HawaiiWhen Meetings Boil Over
At any time, without warning, you can find yourself in a meeting that boils over. Sometimes tempers rise, then voices rise, and then people yell and scream. What can a team do when meetings threaten to boil over — and when they do?
Senator Mark Warner (Democrat of Virginia) meets with mayorsDiscussus Interruptus
You're chairing a meeting, and to your dismay, things get out of hand. People interrupt each other so often that nobody can complete a thought, and some people dominate the meeting. What can you do?
King Pyrrhus of EpiroDivisive Debates and Virulent Victories
When groups decide divisive issues, harmful effects can linger for weeks, months, or forever. Although those who prevail might be ready to "move on," others might feel so alienated that they experience even daily routine as fresh insult and disparagement. How a group handles divisive issues can determine its success.
A Lockheed L-1011 Tristar aircraft like the one flown by Eastern Airlines flight 401Problem Not-Solving
Group problem solving is a common purpose of meetings. Although much group problem solving is constructive, some patterns are useless or worse. Here are some of the more popular ways to engage in problem not-solving.
A foxhunt in VirginiaExasperation Generators: Opaque Metaphors
Most people don't mind going to meetings. They don't even mind coming back from them. It's being in meetings that can be so exasperating. What can we do about this?

See also Effective Meetings and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An abandoned railwayComing August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
A dog playing catch with a discAnd on August 28: Playing at Work
Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.