Battling Buttinskys: 12 Steps for Coping with Interruptions, Pt. 2

Last week I suggested the first six steps of twelve, the less intrusive methods for combatting interruptions in your book group. The second half of this 12-step program brings out the big guns, six increasingly dramatic responses to more chronic interruption problems.

7) STEER BACK TO THE INTERRUPTED

When an interruption occurs, quickly and neutrally steer the conversation back to the interrupted person. “That’s an interesting idea Y, but I don’t think we got to the bottom of what X said. Can you expand on your point X?” If X seems flustered, try rephrasing what she or he just said. Depending on how chronic Y is in his or her interruptions, you can then choose whether or not to return the discussion back his or her way after the first topic has been completely addressed.

8 ) DISCUSS THE PROBLEM WITH THE GROUP

If interruptions are becoming frequent, point it out at the start of your next meeting. Without having to get personal, make a simple plea for everyone to try hard not to interrupt, to take an extra breath before they start to speak. You might read an article like this one to the group and discuss which responses need to be adopted. In most groups, this will at least create a temporary reprieve from the problem. When it does, thank everyone for reducing their interruptions to reinforce the behavior and remind them briefly at the start of the following meeting.

9) EMBARASS THE INTERRUPTER

If the interruptions come from one source and are especially chronic, you might have to get more firm: Interrupt the interruption. Quickly recap the question or idea that was interrupted, then say “I’m not sure if you heard X/if you considered what X had to say. Did your comment have something to do with hers?” If this happens enough, hopefully the interrupter will get the point.

10) USE A MORE FORMAL DISCUSSION MODEL

This can easily be overdone, but if your problem is chronic, consider a more formal discussion model that prevents interruptions. This might mean assigning a gatekeeper or passing around some kind of object to clearly identify which speaker has the floor. It might mean giving each participant five minutes at the start of the discussion to say what he or she wants about the book before any discussion begins. It might mean raising hands or formally moving through an agenda of questions or topics. This can make discussion a bit stiff, but for some groups it’s better than the alternative.

11) PULL THE OFFENDERS ASIDE

It’s not comfortable, but after the methods above have been exhausted, every book group should have a leader who can talk to a chronic interrupter after a meeting. You can also call the offender between meetings, just don’t turn it into a showdown in front of the whole group. Explain that the distraction is causing agony for other members of the group and that it needs to stop. If a particular issue is causing the interruptions, such as a hearing problem, hostility between participants, or an alcohol problem, then address it directly. Use a three strikes system: a gentle private discussion, a final warning that’s more brisk, and finally…

12) ASK THE INTERRUPTER TO LEAVE THE GROUP

It’s no fun. Nobody joins a book group to become the enforcer. But if it’s ruining the group, you may have to get tough. For the good of the whole, tell the chronic interrupter that they will need to find another group.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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