If you’re having an enthusiastic, engaging conversation in English, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re going to be interrupted.
In some cultures, interrupting is considered rude, so you may be surprised that someone jumps in when it’s your turn to talk.
However, as you learned in this lesson on interrupting, interjecting ideas, and sharing opinions, interrupting can actually be an excellent way to create a connection in conversations in English, especially in American culture.
That said, as a non-native English speaker, you may feel a little thrown off course when someone interrupts you, even to show excitement about what you have to say.
It may take you a moment to collect your thoughts and continue what you were saying. Don’t worry – this will help you!
In this article, I’ll describe the following:
- how to continue if you’re interrupted;
- how to respond gracefully to enthusiastic interruptions; and
- how to handle impolite or aggressive interruptions.
How to Continue if You’re Interrupted or Distracted
If you are interrupted or otherwise distracted when talking in English, don’t panic!
This is a normal part of the give-and-take in natural English conversations and it certainly doesn’t mean that you weren’t expressing yourself well.
If someone interrupts you, that often means they were listening carefully to what you have to say and it reminded them of something related.
Usually, the person who interrupted will recognize that they jumped in, apologize, and then allow you to continue.
Here are some simple phrases you can use to return to your original topic:
- As I was saying,
- Getting back to what I was saying…
- Where was I? (say this if you need some help remembering what you were saying!)
- Continuing where I left off,
- As I was explaining,
You’ll notice that many of these phrases use the past continuous, because that is the verb tense we use when an action is interrupted!
You can follow “As I was” with any number of conversation verbs, like saying, telling you, explaining, sharing, or describing.
When you use these phrases, be sure to keep your intonation friendly and expressive. If your voice is too flat, you will sound annoyed at the interruption. (Learn more about how to use intonation in conversation here.)
How to Respond to Enthusiastic Interruptions and Interjections
If the other person interrupted you in order to ask for clarification, agree with you, show interest or enthusiasm, or mention that you’ve reminded them of something similar, this is great news!
This means that the person is listening carefully to what you have to say and is interrupting to establish a connection with you.
Remember, the deeper reason you want to have better conversations in English is to build relationships with other people! So you should respond in a way that encourages this connection.
If you ignore interruptions that show interest in what you’re saying, you’re missing an opportunity to connect.
This is why I recommend not being so focused on communicating your thoughts; instead, think of ways to keep the conversation going.
Here are some tips:
- If someone asks for clarification, be sure to provide it! Try to repeat your idea in different words. This gives you a chance to explain yourself again and be extra clear.
- If someone agrees with what you’re discussing, acknowledge their interruption. Say, “That’s great!” “Right?” “So true.” “I know!” or another phrase that echoes their sentiment. For example, if someone says, “I thought last night’s episode (of a TV show) was crazy!” You can respond. “I completely agree! As I was saying, it made me think of this movie I saw a few years ago.”
- If someone expresses interest in hearing more about what you have to say, you can say something like, “I know! That’s why I wanted to tell you.” or “I knew you would be interested.” or “That’s why I brought it up.” For example, if they say, “I’ve been wondering how that new restaurant is,” you can respond with, “I thought you might. As I was saying, we went last night and were totally surprised about…”
Useful Expressions to Put Interruptions “On Hold”
If someone mentions a related topic, use one of the following expressions to put that topic “on hold.” This way you can return back to the suggested topic after you finish what you’re saying.
- Let’s come back to that.
- I want to hear more about that afterwards.
- I’m curious about your experience. Let’s return to that in a minute.
- I don’t want to forget to talk about that. Let me just finish what I was saying…
- We’re definitely going to talk about that next.
- Sure thing. I want to talk about that too.
- I want to hear more. But before I lose my train of thought…
As you can see, these expressions show the other person that you “hear” them, understand their attempt to connect with you, and are interested in what they have to say.
But most importantly, they enable you to finish your thought.
How to Respond to Impolite or Aggressive Interruptions
At times, we will end up in conversations with people who consistently interrupt us. Many people who interrupt do not realize they are doing so.
They may prefer to dominate the conversation, want to show off their own expertise or knowledge, or just have an inappropriate way to express enthusiasm for the topic.
(More reasons why? They may be used to different cultural norms or interrupt to show status. Learn more here.)
Your response will definitely depend on the situation, and it is best to think carefully about how you want to respond, especially in professional settings.
You may want to point out that the other person is interrupting you quite frequently. However, it is important to remember that interrupting says more about the other person than you, your level of English, or how well you express yourself in English.
Gentle, Friendly Responses to Impolite Interruptions
Instead, I suggest that you respond gently and remind the other person that you had yet to finish your idea.
It’s okay to mention that you need more time to think than a native English speaker. Most people will understand that and give you the space to finish.
Here are some gentle, friendly responses to impolite interruptions:
- I don’t want to lose my train of thought.
- Sorry, it takes me a little longer to formulate my thoughts.
- I just want to make sure you hear the full story.
- I’m not quite finished yet.
- Would you mind if I finished what I was saying?
- Is it okay if we return to my story/explanation?
When using these phrases, pay attention to your intonation.
Try to make sure your tone is friendly and approachable. If you sound annoyed, it may end the conversation before you’ve had a chance to fully express yourself.
More Direct Ways to Respond to Impolite Interruptions
What happens if the person consistently interrupts you?
You may want to make a pointed comment that shows them that you had not finished yet.
I suggest only using these phrases after you’ve tried a gentler response, or if the conversation has turned into a heated discussion.
At times, you will need to assert yourself in professional settings. It’s up to you to decide on a case by case basis.
- In any case…
- Let me finish…
- Please let me finish what I was saying…
- Could I finish my thought?
- Would you let me finish?
- I haven’t had a chance to finish what I was saying.
When saying these phrases, you should use a serious tone, but try to keep the annoyance out of your voice. It is common to look directly and neutrally at the person to get their attention.
I hope that you won’t have to use these expressions, but they are useful to have in your English toolbox.
Remember, a conversation is a two-way street, not a solo speech!
You want to allow for interruptions and handle them in a positive, encouraging way.
After reading this article, you now understand how to continue with your train of thought after an interruption, how to encourage connection through gracefully acknowledging an interruption, how to put interruptions “on hold,” and how to handle impolite interruptions directly and effectively.
That’s a lot of skills! Now it’s time to put it into practice.
Which phrase do you think will be most helpful for you when speaking? Choose your favorite and use it in response to an interruption below.
Any questions? Please leave a comment.