People who interrupt others are incredibly annoying. But studies suggest that, however unrepentant and patriarchal they may be, interrupters tend to highly focused on the well-being of others. “People who are more susceptible to interrupting are those who are very relationally oriented and extroverted,” Todd Linaman, a psychologist, told Fatherly. “Their highly active interpersonal style can create a greater vulnerability to the impulse to express their thoughts and opinions without thinking first.”
Individual interruptions during your workday take an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from, research shows. One study found that, when people were interrupted, it took up to 27 percent more time to complete the primary task, with twice as many errors and anywhere from 31 to 106 percent more self-reported annoyance. The tendency to interrupt appears to be somewhat gendered but potentially shifting. Multiple past studies suggest that men interrupt more than women, and they interject more with women than men. Other data indicates that women who make less eye contact, lean away, smile more, and display generally less assertive behaviors are more likely to be interrupted as well.
Sex is a cheap variable, however, and studies suggest that interruptions are less about being a man and more about being focused on people and relationships—often seen as a positive characteristic. But when this disposition is combined with other issues such as anger, insecurities, poor impulse control, processing challenges, deficits in reading social cues, or needing to be right all the time, people may feel compelled to express their focus on relationships as constant, obnoxious interruptions.
“For them, the impulse to interrupt can be even stronger to control since they can learn to rely upon certain maladaptive communication patterns for coping,” Linaman notes.
Interrupters tend to become aware of their communication problems through feedback from their romantic partners, family, friends, and colleagues. Self-awareness alone is almost never an antidote for interrupting, but it’s a good first step. From there, interrupters can tone it down by writing things down for later instead of saying them in the moment, practicing reflective listening, or at least learning to apologize when they do interrupt others. Ultimately, interruptions may come from a good place. But that doesn’t make them any less insufferable. If you find yourself interrupting others, you’ll want to cut it out.
“You might interrupt because you genuinely want to be helpful or positively influence a conversation,” Linaman says. “The irony is that you will have more influence by being a good listener and waiting to be asked what you think than you will by interrupting others.”