The Polite Interruption or How to Bail from a Conversation You Don’t Want to Be In - BusinessBlog : McGraw-Hill
Career Featured

The Polite Interruption or How to Bail from a Conversation You Don’t Want to Be In

The Polite Interruption or How to Bail from a Conversation You Don’t Want to Be In

Known for educating through entertainment, Dr. Rick Brinkman, explains how to leave a unwanted conversation politely.

Have you ever been in a conversation that you really wanted to escape from? Maybe you don’t have time, maybe it’s not really a conversation but a monologue by the other person, or even worse who wants to hear about their nephew’s brother’s sister’s alcoholic father. Well prepare yourself, because you are about to be empowered with Conscious Communication Secret #23, the Polite Interruption.

The polite interruption has five steps:

1. Say the person’s name

2. Apologize for interrupting

3. Make a statement of intent

4. Backtrack what they said

5. Set a new direction

Step 1. Say the person’s name. A person’s name is one of the first words he or she recognizes as a baby. It will get his or her attention. Of course sometimes you may have to say the other person’s name a few times depending how caught up they are in what they are saying.

Step 2. Apologize for interrupting. “Dr. Rick, Dr. Rick, I’m sorry to interrupt you.” Or “Excuse me for interrupting.”

Step 3. Make a statement of intent. Intent is the purpose behind an action or communication. In this case it’s the purpose behind the interruption. But we want the intent to be in the speaker’s interests. A good statement of intent that can be used just about anywhere is, “I just want to make sure I understand.”

Everyone wants to be understood, therefore this intent will be received positively by the other person. It is unlikely they will say, “I don’t want you to understand me. I’m talking to myself here.”

Step 4. Backtrack some of what they said. Backtracking means you say back what someone says to you. It always lets people know they’ve been heard. A caution, when you backtrack make sure to use the person’s actual words. If you translate the words into your own words, you run the risk of them thinking what you say is not what they meant. 

The same words can mean different things to different people. If by translating, the other person thinks you didn’t get it, then it is likely they will interrupt you and repeat what you just heard again. You don’t need that. After all you are trying to end the conversation, not perpetuate it.

Step 5. Set a new direction. Just change the subject and act like it makes sense. Right out of the backtrack you might say, “And that reminds me, I have to go.” “Whoa, look at the time.” “You know this would be a good time to wash my hair.” 

It doesn’t matter what the direction is and there are no requirements to explain your logic. This is what happens and is accepted as normal conversation. It’s one big free association game. First we are talking about work, then the subject switches to the weekend, someone else mentions their son’s game, now the subject becomes children, etc.

In the normal free association conversation game we are not as polite as what I am suggesting because there is no acknowledgment of hearing what people said with backtracking or an intent to understand. When the speaker stops to breathe we just leap in and say whatever we have to say, taking the conversation in a different direction.

In the polite interruption by apologizing, making a statement of intent and backtracking before you leap you are being much more polite.  If you want to be double dog polite then after backtracking tell the other person “I’m sorry I don’ t have the time now to give you that you deserve.”  In one sentence you tell the person that you value them and what they are saying, but are clear that you don’t have time now.

There is an optional 6th step to the polite interruption. If you really want to continue the conversation then set a time for it to continue. If on the other hand, it’s just office gossip or something you really don’t care to hear then wrap it up with no commitment to continue in the future.  Then change your body position to indicate the conversation is over. By change your body position I mean walk away. Or if you were both sitting then stand up. Or reach out and shake their hand as in “goodbye”, whichever is appropriate to your circumstances.

On the phone or a virtual meeting you have an additional option because there is a natural pattern that occurs when phone conversations wind down. Listen for it in the days ahead.

1. We summarize what we have been talking about.

2. We summarize what the next steps will be.

3. We then switch to past tense.

So, for example:

“In this article we have been talking about the polite interruption and a natural pattern that happens when people end conversations on the phone. (Summarize)

Your next step is to go out into the laboratory of life and start listening to how conversations naturally jump around and how they wind down. Once you see and hear how natural it is, then you will have no inhibitions about doing it on purpose and you will be a master of the Polite Interruption. (Next steps)

It was nice talking to about this subject. I’m so glad you read this blog.” (Past tense)


To read more from Dr. Rick Brinkman, check out his book, Dealing with Meetings You Can’t Stand.
Article Name
The Polite Interruption or How to Bail from a Conversation You Don’t Want to Be In.

Dr. Rick Brinkman is the coauthor of the international bestseller Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, which has been translated into 25 languages. His new book, Dealing with Meetings You Can’t Stand, How to Meet Less and Do More is available now. He is a top keynote speaker and trainer on leadership, teamwork, customer service, effective meetings, difficult people, and managing multiple priorities.