Whether you’re presenting in a team meeting, or pitching an idea to a group of executives, having a colleague interrupt you at work can be a stressful experience. Aside from the fact that it’s rude, the interruption itself can hold you back from getting your point across — and when it happens often, it can make you less passionate about the work you’re doing, and less happy at your job.
Research shows that employees who deal with continual interruptions experience more stress and increased feelings of frustration at work — and there’s good reason for that. “Getting interrupted can be stressful because it’s a challenge to your position,” Joseph DeVito, Ph.D., author of The Interpersonal Communication Book, tells Thrive. “Interruptions tell you — and others at the meeting — that you are not as important as the person doing the interrupting.”
Rebecca Greenbaum, Ph.D., a professor at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, tells Thrive that handling interruptions starts with dealing with chronic interruptors: the colleagues at work who are at the source of your stress. And whether you’re naturally introverted or extroverted, confronting these individuals appropriately (with compassionate directness) can seem difficult.
If you consistently struggle with being heard because of others’ interruptions, the experience can ruin the way you feel about coming to work — and that needs to change. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
It can be daunting to speak up about feeling interrupted at work, but it’s important not to avoid confrontation altogether. After all, we know from research that sidestepping important issues only ends up backfiring, and that when it comes to having your voice heard, using it is step one. Greenbaum says avoiding the matter can actually worsen the situation “for the transgressor, for the workplace overall, and perhaps for you.” Instead, she suggests striving for “constructive confrontation.” (At Thrive, we call this value “compassionate directness,” and it’s all about providing honest feedback in a way that improves company culture, by facilitating ongoing two-way conversation.) “Talk things out sooner than later,” Greenbaum adds.
Differentiate between types
While interruptions can be incredibly impolite, remember that communication is often subjective, so what feels like an abrupt interruption to you could feel like a typical back-and-forth for someone else. “Realize that some interruptions at work meetings are normal, so don’t take those personally,” DeVito says. And if the interruption is subtle, he suggests telling your colleague, “Would you mind holding that thought,” or “Let me finish my thought.” Greenbaum adds that there’s a performance model called “trait activation theory,” where parts of our personalities get triggered depending on the circumstances — and being mindful of when you get offended can help you cope accordingly. “Knowing that we’re not limited to one type can allow us to grow,” she says.
Shift your POV
When one colleague in particular is a constant interruptor, it’s easy to start to see them in a negative light — and holding onto that negativity can prevent you from being happy at work. If you’ve already been honest and compassionately direct, Greenbaum says it may be time to be the bigger person, and give them the benefit of the doubt. “Try to see things from your coworker’s point-of-view,” she urges, “And if needed, forgive your coworker.” It’s tempting to feel stuck in your view of someone if they’ve continually interrupted you, but it’s important to remind yourself that we’re only human. “We’re all fallible,” Greenbaum adds. “You’ll feel much happier by moving past your differences.”
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Rebecca Muller is an Assistant Editor at Thrive Global. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism. She is excited to join Thrive in its mission to accelerate the culture shift and end the stress epidemic.
brief essay—which really should go in Architectural Digest, Dwell, Interior Design, Elle Décor, or
House Beautiful—is about designing with books but also says something about
communication and how our decorating says something about who we are.
had our loft decorated by a professional decorator who was excellent, except
for one thing: He wanted to remove the dust jackets (book jackets, dust covers)
from my rather extensive library. I resisted. But I figured that this may be a
standard decorating principle and so I journeyed to the large department stores
and where books were displayed, there were no dust jackets in sight. Apparently,
it is a decorating principle, but one that needs to be revisited and removed
from the decorator’s handbook.
Dust jackets are integral to the book; they are a part of the
book, not like a candy wrapper that is removed and thrown away. Dust jackets
are a preview of the theme or the mood of the book and serve much the same
purpose as the introduction or preface, but ideally in an extremely brief but visually
arresting way. They tell the potential reader something important about the
book, with their words obviously, but also with their fonts, colors, and
Dust jackets serve an attention-gaining function, much like
the introduction to a speech or article. They draw attention to the book; they
invite you to look more extensively at the book, to spend some time with it.
And, again, much like the introduction to a speech or article, they provide the
potential reader with a preview, explaining or hinting at the content of the
book, at what is to follow.
Dust jackets individualize books. Whereas books without dust
jackets look very much the same, dust jackets make each book visually distinct.
And, of course, each book is distinct and different from every other book.
Books without jackets lose a good part of this distinctiveness, a distinctiveness
that adds variety--color and dimension—to a shelf that would otherwise be
totally bland—especially when the books number in the hundreds.
Dust jackets are given considerable attention by publishers
and are often works of art. And although the dust jacket is nothing more than a
type of poster, it still is a work of art that can be enjoyed in and of itself.
Furthermore, if the book is a first edition or otherwise rare, it will be worth
far less without its original dust jacket. So, by destroying the dust jacket,
you destroy a good part of the value of the book, perhaps its total value. And
you don’t want a client to discover that a once-valuable book is now worthless.
Consider too the different messages that a bookcase of
dust-jacketed books and jacket-less books communicate about your clients, who
they are and what their priorities are. A good argument could be made that the
impression the dust jackets create is of a lover of books, a reader, someone
with a mind. The jacket-less books more likely communicate clients more
concerned with appearance than substance.
From a purely practical point of view, they help the user
find the book, especially when the library is extensive. And once this now
easy-to-find book is found, the jacket serves as a reminder of the mode or
theme of the book.
So, decorators, think about the important functions that dust
jackets serve and consider the values of leaving them exactly where the publisher,
designer, and author put them.
I wrote this as a post on the basic course list but I thought others might also be interested.
For a variety of reasons, it seems useful to periodically
review current practices and search for alternatives that might better serve
our purposes. So, here I want to review the “basic course” and argue that the
basic course in communication—often a required course—should not be public
speaking but should be the hybrid/fundamentals course.
As most readers know, NCA was originally established as the
National Association of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking, a title that
lasted for about nine years (from 1914-1922). The first journal was called The Quarterly Journal of Public Speaking, first
published in April 1915. From then to now, the field of communication has
changed dramatically—it has grown in both breadth and depth—and now includes
areas of human interaction that cannot be subsumed under public speaking and,
of course, forms and ways of communicating that didn’t exist in 1915.
Paradoxically, while the national,
regional, and state associations as well as the journals reporting communication
research and theory have changed, the largest basic course in communication remains
There are several reasons why the hybrid/fundamentals of
communication course should replace public speaking as the basic course and I
here try to spell out some of these. None of this is to question the value of
public speaking—we all know it teaches valuable skills. These arguments only
pertain to the placement of the public speaking course in the sequence of
courses a student takes and why the hybrid/fundamentals course would better
serve our students and our field. The hybrid/fundamentals course as envisioned
here would be a theory course that covers the major areas of communication. This
course would provide the foundation principles for the more specialized courses,
whether theory or performance-oriented (or some combination).
Reasons for Change
there may be many more and perhaps better reasons for change, I here discuss five:
(1) Perceived Relevance, (2) Stress, Anxiety, and Apprehension, (3) Showcasing
and Defining the Field, (4) Cost-Effectiveness, and (5) Knowledge and Skills.
Perceived Relevance Public speaking is certainly relevant
to success in contemporary society. But this relevance, however undisputed by
communication instructors, probably cannot be appreciated by the majority of
first-year college students. They don’t see themselves giving speeches on
political or social issues at the present time. Yet, we persist in trying to
get students to see the relevance of public speaking when—at this point in
their lives—it isn’t relevant—at least not to the majority of first-year
college students. But they do see themselves communicating in face-to-face and
online conversation and group interaction. Consequently, the hybrid course is more
likely to be perceived as more relevant and more useful to students’ immediate
Going beyond relevance, public speaking is probably not even
the most important communication skill that a student should learn. If you look
at the ads for employment—certainly not the final arbiter of importance but one
not to be dismissed either—especially at the entry level—it is interpersonal
communication and group/team communication that are emphasized, not public
speaking. And this is even more applicable for community college students who
are not pursuing an academic track.
Stress, Anxiety, and Apprehension Public Speaking is stressful and
anxiety-provoking for all students and especially for first-year students who
find college overwhelming enough without the added anxiety of speaking in
public. And when you factor in the number of students with high communication
apprehension, the stress is considerable and not to be treated lightly.
Further, when the course requires students to assemble and tape a live audience
(as many online public speaking courses do), it creates even more stress as
well as obligations that the student now has to these audience members. All
this (and more) contributes, not only to stress and anxiety, but also to the
general dislike of the Public Speaking course by many students and, I fear, its
avoidance when it’s not required.
The hybrid course, on the other hand, avoids the anxiety
created by having to give a speech. And for a student new to college, this is
no small difference. Interestingly enough, the Atlantic (September 12, 2018)recently reported that some students are protesting in-class
presentations because such assignments discriminate against those with anxiety.
When this is a required course, these students may have a case. With public
speaking as an advanced elective course, this objection would have little merit.
Showcasing and Defining the Field The basic course—if it’s public
speaking—does not showcase the fieldas
do the introductory courses in sociology or psychology, for example. Consequently,
students are not thoroughly informed about the field of communication and its
amazing number of relevant and interesting topics. And so, the public speaking
course is really not productive for generating student interest in second and
third level courses or in minoring or majoring in communication.
Public speaking does not show off the robust theory and
research that dominates contemporary communication studies. In fact, there is
relatively little research on public speaking that would be even remotely
interesting to today’s students, especially when compared to interpersonal,
intercultural, or social media communication.
The hybrid course showcases the entire field and thus gives
students the opportunity to appreciate the breadth and depth of the field that
can be explored in a great array of advanced courses. It serves as a
feeder-course in a way that public speaking cannot. The hybrid course includes
the best of the research and theory—the research and theory reported in our
journals and in those of related fields. It more easily demonstrates the
vitality of our field.
Insofar as the basic course defines the field—even if only in
the minds of students and ill-informed administrators and colleagues in other
departments—communication is seen as a service department helping students to
deliver oral presentations for other courses. The hybrid course defines the
field as one of theory and research that rivals any of the other social
Cost Effectiveness Public speaking is an expensive
course that is often called upon to economize by increasing the number of
students in a class, for example.And
much as academics would want financial considerations to be irrelevant, they
aren’t. In fact, financial considerations are becoming increasingly important
in academic decision-making. It’s lunacy to see the future and then deny
it—whether it’s climate change or the need to economize and make education more
affordable. Public speaking courses of 20 or 25 or even 30 students increase
the overall cost of education more so than would a hybrid course.
The hybrid course is not any more expensive than any other
course in the college curriculum. It is certainly more cost efficient than the
public speaking course—a not unimportant factor in gaining course approval from
an administration that is always looking to save money. The fundamentals course
is relatively easy to teach in mass lecture or online. It’s not quite so easy
with public speaking. And as a previous post noted, there is a move in some
quarters to prevent online courses from including performance—ruling out the
more cost-efficient online public speaking course.
Knowledge and Skills Public speaking relies on advanced
skills that first year students simply do not have. And so, in our courses as
in our textbooks, we offer mini-courses in sociology in discussing audience
analysis, in psychology in our discussions of motivation and emotion, and in
English in our discussions of word and sentence choice. How much better would it
be if the student came to public speaking after taking courses in these
subjects and could apply that knowledge to constructing effective public
The hybrid course, as visualized here, is not a performance
course; rather it would provide the principles of communication and their
applications to the more specialized areas of interpersonal, intercultural, nonverbal,
organizational, communication theory, public speaking, and a variety of other
courses. It would provide the knowledge that needs to underlie the skills.
Implementing the Change
this change, at least two things need to be done:
Internally, we need to consider or reconsider what basic
course would best serve the needs of our students and our discipline. Studies
on student satisfaction with the various courses and on the number of students
who take advanced courses or choose to minor or major in communication (after
taking Public Speaking versus the hybrid course) would help us make informed decisions
as would studying the number of students who would and would not take public
speaking if it weren’t required.
This may not be easy since so many instructors have a loyalty
to public speaking and believe that all students should take public speaking.
Having it required may seem the only reasonable way to insure that. But
students know what they need to succeed—though maybe not in their first year of
college—and will take public speaking when they’re ready—personally as well as
academically, whether in the college classroom or in some of the many
face-to-face and online public speaking workshops.
Externally, we (and NCA as the national organization as well
as regional and state associations) need to make the case that a survey of
communication concepts and principles is as academically respectable as any
course such as psychology or sociology. Yes, we teach skills but these need to
rest on a foundation of theory and research. Identifying our field as one focused
on public speaking—and the basic course does help (considerably, I suspect) in
defining the field in the minds of students, colleagues, and administrators—is
simply not accurate and very likely not seen as academically rigorous and respectable
(as any of the other social sciences). It presents an image of the department and the
field as one of service rather than substance.
This too may well be difficult especially when departments
have convinced the relevant college committees and administrators that public
speaking is an essential skill and should be required of all students.Public speaking is an essential skill and most
students should take it, just not as the introductory/required course.
Further, it may well be that public speaking is the only communication
course the college decision-makers consider important enough to require and, if
no longer required, may remove communication entirely from the required course
These are all real problems but it seems to me that we—as a
field—must first decide what course is most appropriate for our students and
our field and only then decide how to go about effecting the change—if indeed a
change is thought an improvement.
Here is a speech of acceptance that is sure to resonate with students and instructors alike. It's Madonna's acceptance speech for the Advocate for Change award from GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation). The speech is all over the Internet; the one noted here is one clear version with commentary.
Our conversations at work are often peppered with corporate-speak that can be more irritating than useful — “Don’t reinvent the wheel,” “Think outside the box,” “We’re making a paradigm shift.” People don’t mean to be annoying — we employ these terms in the interest of efficiency, using shorthand we all easily and quickly understand. But used in excess, they can make you seem uninspired and uninventive, and sometimes, even rude.
“One or two clichés aren’t going to derail your value in a meeting. But constant reference to buzzwords and jargon can make others roll their eyes,” or worse, feel condescended to, Jay Sullivan, a communications expert and author ofSimply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond, tells Thrive Global.
When this question is posed after an explanation, it can be particularly irksome. While it often comes from the right place — to be sure the person you’re communicating with is understanding what you’re saying — it implies that the listener doesn’t have the wherewithal to ask for clarity on his own. It also makes the speaker look weak. “If somebody says, ‘Was that clear?’ ‘Did that make any sense?’ It also sounds like they are questioning their own ability to be clear, Sullivan says.
Joseph A. Devito, Ph.D., of The Interpersonal Communication Book, adds that the phrase can also be misconstrued as a final verdict. “As if to say, ‘I hope that makes sense to you and that you now, finally, understand what I’m talking about,’” he says. Even more reason to scrap it altogether.
Try this instead: “What additional information on that would be helpful to you?” In that formulation, Sullivan suggests, no one is belittled and the dialogue can continue freely and productively.
“That’s a no-brainer”
When a manager tells his or her underlings an idea is a “no-brainer,” it destructively implies that any thought to the contrary is wrong, DeVito points out. That challenges our ability to communicate with compassionate directness, surfacing problems with openness and creativity. If the person or team finds the “no-brainer” brain-intensive, Sullivan adds, it can squash their confidence and prevent them from sharing their opinions.
Try this instead: “That makes sense to me,” Sullivan says is a better way to communicate your stance without belittling those around you. As a manager, it’s important to remain cognizant of the fact that not everyone’s skill set is at the same level, he emphasizes. What’s easy for you may not come as easily for someone else, so claiming something is a “no-brainer” just doesn’t help.
“To be honest”
Who isn’t guilty of this one? But “to be honest” can have the opposite effect of what we mean. “It’s a problem phrase because it may be taken to imply that the speaker is not always honest, or that the listener is assumed to be suspicious,” DeVito says.
Try this instead: Delete this one from your vocabulary and replace it with a pause before speaking, which makes you seem thoughtful and respectful, Sullivan says. If you’re feeling bolder, and know the person well, Sullivan suggests trying: ‘I have some thoughts on that. Do you want the diplomatic version or the direct version?’”
Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.
Stephanie Fairyington is a senior staff writer at Thrive Global. A New York-based journalist, her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic (online), The New Republic (online), The Boston Globe, and several other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her spouse Sabrina and daughter Marty.