“Do not interrupt people while they are speaking” is a rule you will see in just about every etiquette book. However, contrary to many etiquette books, we at Balissande Finishing School, say there are exceptions to this rule. As a matter of fact, we will go so far to say that the right interruptions can propel a conversation forward in exciting and enlightening ways. The key is knowing when to do it.

man and woman talking at cafe - conversation etiquette

Before learning when to interrupt, you must first learn how to interrupt. Here are some rules:

1.. Do not interrupt people so often in a conversation you become rude. We cannot say how many times in a conversation it is suitable to interrupt. It is really dependent on how long the conversation is, what the conversation is about, and who is speaking.

2.. Interrupt speakers when they take a breath. This way it is less of an interruption and more of adding information to help the conversation flow.

3.. Do not interrupt speakers in the middle of their sentence. Let them get their idea across before you start to interrupt. If the speaker is in the middle of a sentence, you either have not heard the point the speaker wants to make or you missed your time to appropriately interrupt.

4.. Remember you can also interrupt silently, by putting a questioning look on your face. If the speaker is watching you for cues, she will hesitate in her speech, giving you space to ask a question, or she may even ask you a question herself.

So, now when can you interrupt:

1.. When you have an insightful comment to make. Drop it in quickly at the right moment. Don’t take over the conversation. Just drop it in quickly so that it is in direct response to what the speaker is currently saying. If the speaker is speaking so fast, it leaves you little space to drop a comment at the appropriate time, don’t.

2.. When you want to clarify what the speaker is saying. Clarification questions are not only important for you, but also for the speaker. It is a waste of everyone’s time, if you misunderstood the entire conversation based on one misconstrued concept.

3.. When you want to re-direct. This kind of interruption takes great skill to make it appear natural. You must be careful, otherwise, you risk offending the speaker. There are many reasons why you may want to re-direct a conversation. Some reasons are if the conversation becomes malicious, boring, one-sided, too long, inappropriate, or too personal.

Before taking the route of refined re-directions, we ask you to study the art first. Watch people. Learn through experience when it is right and when it is wrong. And then, begin to work on it.

Interrupting conversations have many uses. As a refined conversationalist and hostess, it is important you understand this. You never know what conversation you will find yourself in.

Please take the time to watch the video clip below from the television series, Downton Abbey. In this clip, Atticus’ and Lady Rose’s parents exchange insults at the dinner table. Pay attention to how the conversation is re-directed multiple times. While you’re at it, also pay attention to what conversation topics are appropriate and inappropriate at the dining table.