How, When, and When Not to Interrupt A Conversation

How, When, and When Not to Interrupt


By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

“Excuse me for a second! May I Interrupt You?”

We’ve all asked it.

In fact, in the urgency of the moment, sometimes there’s just no other way. We’ve needed to interrupt someone deep in concentration or conversation.

But, is there a way to graciously interrupt someone?

Sure there is!

In fact, there’s a way to do most anything graciously. You just need to know the how-to. The thing is, the how-to is often counter-intuative to what we initially think.

Let’s look at a few of these how-to’s now, like:

What are some of the guidelines for knowing when to interrupt and when to walk on by?

How do you politely interrupt a person?

Do you need to make introductions for someone who stops to say, “Hi!” when you’re having a conversation with someone else?

Should you stand close by and wait for others to finish talking before you interrupt?

How, When, and When Not to Interrupt

Should you interrupt your friend’s conversation or walk on by: This is tricky. You sort of have to use your sixth sense. In general, if you haven’t seen your friend in more than a week, and you’re certain he or she has noticed you, it’s gracious (if the conversation doesn’t seem to be intense or romantic) to interrupt briefly to acknowledge your friend. This is especially appropriate if you know both the people.

How do you graciously do it?

Catch his or her eye and say, “Excuse me, I’m not staying, I just wanted to say, ‘Hello!’ Give me a call and we’ll catch-up.” Stand further away than you normally would as you say this. Distancing yourself sends the signal that you’re not attempting to make yourself part of their conversation. Now the ball’s in your friend’s court. If she motions you over, then you know it’s fine to join in. If she says, “Hi! I’ll give you a call this week!”, you know to keep moving.

Grace Note: Greeting and Acknowledging are Two Different Things: Greeting is when you stop and say something. Acknowledging is offering a look of recognition. It includes brief eye contact and a smile. Acknowledging others (friends and strangers) is often appropriate. In fact, if someone is not in a truly public place (sidewalk, mall, grocery store) and they come within five feet of you, it’s kind to acknowledge them. Examples: at church, at school (parents and students), those you pass on the floor of your building at work, in the hall of your apartment building, at a neighborhood street party.

Should you interrupt the conversation of someone you don’t know well: If you pass by someone you don’t know well (perhaps a new friend) or a potential client or business contact, the best thing to do is to simply smile and make eye contact. You can send them an e-mail or personal note the next day saying it was nice to see them at the event. This way you acknowledge them and also give them the opportunity to perhaps connect with you at a time when they do not have to divide their time.

Don’t Just Stand There: Children are taught to wait patiently beside mom or dad until the grownups have finished talking. That was perfect when you were a child, but only until you’re an older teen.
After that, hovering makes you appear childish.

An adult standing nearby waiting their turn makes everyone feel pressured to end the conversation. It’s better to interrupt briefly, “Excuse me for just a moment. David, when you’re finished, stop by my cubicle. I need to share information about the fourth-quarter sales projections.”

Interrupting Someone Who’s On the Phone: It’s sometimes harder to catch someone’s eye when they’re on the phone. Your best bet is to be proactive. Before heading out from your office to find the person, bring a small note pad with you. If they’re on the phone when you arrive, you can jot down a note you can hand them or leave on their desk. You could write, “Let’s finalize details for tomorrow’s presentation.”

When and When Not to Make Introductions: When someone stops to greet you in passing, there’s no need to introduce him or her to others unless that person joins the conversation. After about three minutes in the conversation, or two back-and-forth exchanges, if no introductions have been made, go ahead and introduce yourself. Share your name and very briefly (in a sentence) how you know the other person. “We haven’t been introduced. I’m Leigh Spearman! David and I are neighbors.”

See…easy-peasy and now no more wondering if it’s best to say, “Hi” or keep on walking. :)

What’s Next?


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Until next time, keep doing what you were only you can do. Bless yourself and others by being you…at your best!


XOXO and blessings,


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