Interrupting is typically a rude thing to do. In fact, most of the time I don’t recommend interrupting a conversation, but there are situations that call for speaking up.

If there is an emergency, the person is saying something that you know is incorrect, the group is gossiping about someone who isn’t there, or there is any other strong reason to stop the discussion, you may interject as long as you do it politely. Knowing when and how to interrupt is essential if you want to others to see you as a polite, gracious, and interesting person.

Another reason to interrupt may be that it’s someone else’s turn to say something. Conversations should be inclusive of everyone in a group, but we all know some people who don’t give other people the opportunity to speak. Being a good conversationalist involves actively participating in a discussion and knowing when to interject. When it’s time to listen, stop talking but look for opportunities to interject with questions or brief statements.

Here are some tips on how to interrupt someone’s conversation:

  1. Have a specific purpose. Whether you are jumping into other people’s conversation or you’re stopping someone’s monologue, it’s essential that you have a reason for doing it and the ability to relay that to the person talking. State the purpose as briefly as possible.
  2. Use proper timing. It’s best to wait until the person speaking stops to catch a breath before speaking up.
  3. Be as polite as possible. Always speak politely and start the conversation with a polite introduction to your interruption. Some things you might say include, “Excuse me,” “I need to say something here,” “Do you mind if I interrupt?” I have an idea that relates to what you just said,” “I’d like to add something to that,” or “I beg your pardon, but I need to say something.”
  4. Use a gesture. If your interruption isn’t acknowledged, lift a hand or use eye contact to get the person’s attention. Never hover. When you make your gesture, you can say, “Excuse me for a sec. I’ll keep this brief.” Then say what you need to say as quickly as possible so they can get back to their conversation.
  5. Clear your throat. This is likely to have heads turning in your direction. Take advantage of it to say whatever you need to say.
  6. Keep a noticeable distance when interrupting someone else’s conversation. If you walk right up to whoever is chatting, it may appear that you want to simply listen. Stand back a bit as you make eye contact to show that being part of their conversation isn’t what you want.
  7. Get clarification. When you are in a business or committee meeting, and the discussion is heading in a direction that you and perhaps others don’t understand, it is okay to interrupt to get an explanation. You may be surprised by how many will thank you later. Chances are if you don’t understand others don’t either.
  8. Thank the others for allowing you to interrupt. After you say what’s on your mind, show your gratitude for the others allowing you to speak.

When someone starts to gossip, you can just interrupt at any point to stop it in its tracks. One of the most important times to interrupt a conversation is when it turns to trash talking someone who isn’t there. If you stand there listening, even if you don’t say a word, you’re participating and encouraging this sort of thing. And chances are, when you’re not with these people, they’re gossiping about you. Simply speak up and change the subject. If they don’t get the hint, you can say, “I’d rather not discuss her when she’s not here to defend herself.” If they continue, leave.

Interrupting a discussion can take place for a number of reasons. For example you might interrupt a conversation to:

  • Give a message to someone
  • Ask a quick question that has nothing to do with the conversation
  • Give your opinion about something that has been said
  • Interrupt to join the conversation

Here are forms and phrases used to interrupt conversations and meetings arranged by purpose.

Interrupting to Give Someone Information

Use these short forms to quickly and efficiently interrupt a conversation to deliver a message.

  • I’m sorry to interrupt but you’re needed (on the phone / in the office / in the classroom / etc.)
  • Sorry for the interruption. It’s Jim / Peter / Mary on the phone.
  • Pardon me, but I have John on the phone.
  • Excuse me, could I get a signature / an answer / a cup of coffee quickly?

Interrupting to Ask a Quick Unrelated Question

At times we need to interrupt to ask an unrelated question. These short phrases quickly interrupt to ask for something else.

  • I’m sorry to interrupt, but this will only take a minute.
  • Sorry for the interruption, but could you (answer a quick question / help me for a moment / give me an opinion on…)?
  • I’m so sorry. This will just take a minute.
  • I apologise for the interruption, but I have an important question.

Interrupting to Join the Conversation with a Question

Using questions are a polite way of interrupting. Here are some of the most common questions we ask in order to be allowed to join the conversation.

  • Could I jump in?
  • Could I add something?
  • Can I say something?
  • May I interject?

Interrupting to Join the Conversation

During a conversation we might need to interrupt the conversation if we are not asked for our opinion. In this case, these phrases will help.

  • Would you mind if I joined the conversation?
  • I couldn’t help overhearing. (Use when listening to a conversation that you are not a part of)
  • Sorry to butt in, but I think / feel…
  • If I may, I think / feel…

Interrupting Someone Who has Interrupted You

Sometimes we don’t want to allow an interruption. In this case, use the following phrases to bring the conversation back to your point of view.

  • Please let me finish.
  • Let me complete my thought.
  • Would you please let me finish?
  • Can I continue, please?

Allowing an Interruption

If you want to allow an interruption, use one of these short phrases to allow the person to ask a question, express an opinion, etc.

  • No problem. Go ahead.
  • Sure, what do you think?
  • That’s OK. What do you need / want?

Continuing after an Interruption

Once you’ve been interrupted you can continue your point after the interruption by using one of these phrases.

  • As I was saying, I think / feel…
  • To get back to what I was saying, I think / feel…
  • I’d like to return to my argument.
  • Continuing where I left off…