Handling People Who Talk Too Much: Politely Interrupting

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Handling people who talk too much can be a delicate situation. Learn how to interrupt a chatterbox or talkative person in a polite way. Learn all about TRP (transition relevance place) from Conversation Analysis to do a polite interruption. When you know how to interrupt politely, you can jump into the conversation!

Can you tell people who talk too much to stop talking?

I mean, you could… but you’d probably offend them. And we definitely don’t want to be rude.

Ugh, conversation hogs…amitire?

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a strategy for speaking up when someone starts to hog the conversation?

Well you’re in luck, because we’ve got one for ya.

We’re actually going to approach this problem from two vantage points:

First, we’ll look at it as the person who wants to interrupt the chatterbox.

Then, we’ll look at it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t necessarily have anything to say, but notices the conversation is being dominated by a single person, to the exclusion of others. 

Remember, a conversation is only a conversation when everyone has the chance to voice their thoughts. If just one person is doing the talking, that’s a speech. 

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with speeches. But more often than not, we are looking for a conversation. 

So continue reading to see how we can ensure we get a word in edgewise.

Alright so, if you’re the person who wants to speak and there’s someone hogging the floor, what do you say to jump in? How can you signal that it’s your turn to talk?

I have 3 letters for you: T-R-P.

Transition Relevance Place. This is a term from the field of conversation analysis. It indicates a point of completion at the end of the utterance. This is the time at which another speaker can jump into the conversation.

So, in order to get the chance to speak, you need to be on the lookout for a TRP.

Let’s examine a few examples of transition relevance places so we know when we can jump into the conversation. 

(1) “When we went to Japan, we had the best mochi.”

That is a complete utterance. Now obviously you wouldn’t jump in at “Japan” because the speaker hasn’t finished the point of the statement. But after “mochi”, there’s a natural point where you can jump in. That’s your TRP.

If you don’t choose to jump in, then the speaker will likely continue with another utterance. That’s okay if nothing comes to mind. But what if you wanted to hear more about mochi? You could say something like, “I absolutely love mochi, do you have any idea how they make it?”.

Or to the contrary, what if the topic of mochi totally bores you and you’d rather hear about the city they were in? You could go with, “You know, I’m not wild about mochi, but tell me more about Tokyo!”

The point is, by identifying your TRP, you can guide the conversation toward your interests. 

On the other hand, if you miss your TRP, you cede control to the speaker, and who knows when your next opportunity may come. For all you know, you might be stuck listening to an elaborate story about the intricacies of mochi making for the next five minutes before you can signal that you’d like to switch topics.

Now let’s look at another TRP.

(2) “A lot of people didn’t love the final season of Game of Thrones because it was fast paced, but I’ve got to tell you, I really enjoyed it and think they did a good job wrapping up loose ends, particularly with some of the lesser-known characters.”

OK this one is a bit longer, right? The speaker extended their utterance by using conjunctions like “because” and “but.” There were probably a few possible TRPs in there, but if they didn’t pause while speaking, it could be tough to jump in.

This may have even been intentional on their part to ensure you didn’t jump in. When you want to extend your turn, you add conjunctions and omit pauses. You can also alter your intonation, waiting until the end of your turn to lower it (because a lower intonation signals the end of your turn).

Savvy conversation hogs employ these tactics to keep talking and talking. 

So be ready to fight for your airspace.

A great way to do this is to politely interrupt them with phrases like: “Absolutely, and guess what else…” or “A quick point on that note...”, or “Before you go on….”

Notice how these interjections are building on what the person is saying. That ensures that your interruption sounds collaborative, rather than combative. It softens the fact that you’re putting an end to their soliloquy.

Be sure when you do this that you are assertive with your language. Avoid hedges and superfluous fillers like “so, um, hmm”. You can even use a slighter louder voice with a lower pitch. But resist the temptation to speak rapidly – you don’t want to sound desperate. Rather, you want to command their attention.

Now it doesn’t end there. 

You may notice someone else wants to add a thought. This is an opportunity to help them get into the conversation.

Being the ace conversationalist you are, you notice the person is struggling to signal turn-taking.

In this case, I task you with finding a TRP and jump in for them. When you do, you can say something like “Jane, were you about to say something?” or “Matt, did you have something to add?” or “Maybe we pause for a second to discuss -- does anyone else have a view on this?

It’s helpful to say the name of the person and turn towards them, signaling inclusivity. Smile and make them comfortable speaking their mind.

Remember, the quiet people often see things that the blabber mouths don’t, so when they speak, listen up!

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Okay, so there’s your interruption game plan. Let’s quickly recap:

  1. Listen for your TRP, transition relevance place. A TRP might be a place where there’s a pause, when the sentence ends, or where there is falling intonation.
  2. When it comes, seize it. Jump into the conversation and guide it toward a place you want to go. 
  3. Keep an eye out for others who might be struggling to get in, and give them a helping hand

By the way, that final one is a total pro move. Others will really appreciate you stepping in on their behalf so that everyone can be heard. Doing so not only scores you good karma points, you also build your reputation as a capable leader. 

Cha - ching!

So now that I've shared our thoughts, I want to hear about what works for you. What other strategies can you share with the Explearning community to participate in group conversation where there seems to be one dominant voice? And what challenges have you encountered with getting a turn to speak?

Share those two things with me in the comments below.

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With that, have an awesome week, Explearners.

Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time for your next Explearning lesson.

Happy Explearning ⚡

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Sources:

Clayman, 2013

Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson, 1974