<<< Back Posted: March 2014

Interrupting

Have you ever found yourself interrupting while coaching someone?

In all fairness, there are occasions where it might make sense to interrupt.  For example, while your coachee is in the process of telling a story, you may notice an opportunity to explore something they said in more depth. Or, your coachee may be conducting a long monologue about familiar material with no apparent new insights, and you decide to challenge your coachee’s thinking process.  Or, your coachee may be taking the conversation in a direction that seems to have nothing to do with the topic at hand, and you interrupt to ask how what they are saying relates to the goal of the conversation.

These can all be good reasons to interrupt your coachee.

On the other hand, sometimes our coachee stops speaking, and we think they have finished, but they haven’t.  Consequently we say something at the exact moment that they start speaking again. The coachee’s next words, spoken after thoughtful silence, may offer the most important insight they will have had during the entire conversation.  It would be such a shame to ruin this important moment that you have so carefully crafted!

I have two suggestions here.  Firstly, let silence hang a bit longer after your coachee answers your question.  And secondly, if you both start speaking at the same time, stop talking and encourage your coachee to finish his or her thought.

Here’s how to figure out whether your interruption can be appropriate and helpful, or a warning sign to you that you may need to re-check your intentions. When you do interrupt, ask yourself why. Did you stop listening?  Do you have an agenda? A solution? A burning question you just couldn’t wait to ask? Were you feeling bored (that’s interesting!)?  Did you already know what they were going to say next? Do you actually remember what they were talking about at the moment you interrupted?

Understanding why you interrupted can help you manage yourself and the conversation more effectively moving forward.

So on the one hand, an interruption can create an opportunity to explore new territory. On the other hand, anytime we interrupt, we may risk losing precious insights that our coachee is creating at that very moment.  The key is to figure out why we interrupted, as this will guide our decision as to what to do next.