On the East coast “Don’t Interrupt” is never a meeting ground rule. On the West coast, it often is. What’s up with that?
Word Count: 552
Reading Time: 1.5 minutes
“We never used to line up, we just formed a clump and walked toward the doors. It was wonderful to see!”
I’m in New York visiting family and we’ve got tickets to a play. After a long career as a theatre manager, my Uncle’s partner, George is a treasure trove of theater lore. Today I’m being instructed in the old ways of getting into the theatre.
“But George, it’s rude to cut in line.”
“There is no line. Just join the clump and keep your feet moving. It’s much more efficient. You’ll see.”
I can’t explain how it happens, but my entire clump flows effortlessly into the lobby like a giant organism. And, it’s fun. Much better than standing in line. I’m grinning when George looks over at me.
Growing up, I was taught that cutting in line was rude, boorish behavior. Interrupting was simply the verbal version of cutting in line. It wasn’t done.
For many years I was a true believer in the “One conversation” meeting ground rule. It ensured that everyone had a voice and that no one dominated.
Then I facilitated a meeting in New York City.
When I asked about a “no interruptions” ground rule, the room went still for a bit.
“Whadda you talkin’ about?
How’re we supposed to talk to each other?
Kenny, you know what she’s talkin’ about?”
Suddenly everyone was talking at once. Then, just like the clump, it became clear that everyone was listening too.
“We want to interrupt each other.”
Everyone was nodding their agreement.
“Yeah, that’s how we do it.”
I got a master class in interrupting that day. The conversation was faster, livelier and more inclusive than I believed possible, and the group was cohesive, even when split on an issue. Here’s what I learned about interrupting:
— When someone isn’t making their point clear, interrupt them to ask what they are trying to say. Keep interrupting until they can spit it out in a phrase. “We ain’t got all day here.”
— When someone is hemming and hawing, interrupt to encourage them. “Just say it, already.”
— When someone uses the words “Everybody/No one” “Always” or “Never,” interrupt them to bring them back to stop the hyperbole. “I don’t know, so it can’t be ‘everybody.’
“– When you have stopped listening, interrupt them to let them know. “You keep saying the same thing.”
— When you feel confused, interrupt them to paraphrase what they just said.
Deciding that interrupting is off-limits, bad or wrong means you lose access to a valuable tool. Making interruption neither good nor bad frees you to reap the benefits of interrupting:
— shorter, pithier conversations
— faster agreements
— more cohesion, co-creating and fun
Just Do It
There is no right time to interrupt, no formula that will ease the discomfort of a lifetime of politeness training. That means that every time is a good time to interrupt.
In your next conversation or meeting, designate a time for allowing interruptions and see how you like it. Consider the possibility that it might be a joy to interact so freely with teammates. And let me know how it goes for you.