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Robot pulling two plugs apart

Sure, we all know that it’s considered rude to interrupt someone. However, there are times when interruption is necessary, even critical. So, how do you handle behavior that’s normally improper, properly? Fortunately, there are manners for that (bet you didn’t see that coming)!

For every rule, there are instances where they need to be broken. Interrupting someone is one of those instances. Sometimes circumstances arise (e.g. an important phone call, a physical threat, etc.) where interrupting is actually the best way to show respect. Though interrupting can be anxiety producing, especially for children when interrupting adults, two simple guidelines can help you handle it properly and proficiently.

Be Necessary

Before interrupting someone, take a moment to ask if the interruption is necessary. Consider the following questions:

  • Will someone be injured or embarrassed if you don’t interrupt them?
  • If the interruption is for a phone call, can you take a message instead? In many cases, it’s best to explain to the caller that the person can’t come to the phone, take a message, and then relay the message when convenient.
  • If you have a question, can it wait until a natural opportunity to speak to the person instead of interrupting them?
  • Is the interruption time sensitive? For example, will the person miss a flight or a meeting if you don’t intervene?
  • Has the person asked to interrupted?
Phone icon

Cutting the cord

Except in business situations, the prevalence of cell phones and voicemail has made taking messages for other people almost obsolete. Many homes, for example, no longer even have land lines.

Once you’ve determined the interruption is necessary, then it’s easier to meet the second guideline…

Be Confident

Take comfort in knowing that the interruption is not only important, but actually the proper course of action. As with any face-to-face interaction, be clear and concise. There’s no need to wait around for the “right moment” because there isn’t one. After all, this is an interruption, you’re past any right moments at this point. And, standing around waiting will make others nervous and make the situation worse. Along with waiting your turn, also avoid coughing or clearing your throat. While this may seem more discreet, actually this is annoying and almost as rude as whistling or snapping your fingers. As young children are often told when they want something, “Use your words.” This makes the reason for the interruption clear, delivers the message more quickly, and demonstrates your skill for handling a tricky social situation. And here are the words to get you started…

Excuse me for interrupting, but…

Sorry to interrupt, but…

There is a wide range of variations to these openers, but they all achieve the same purpose of drawing attention appropriately and acknowledging the interruption, and preparing the recipient to hear your message.