I have a team member who constantly talks over me. I am her boss and am sometimes trying to communicate important information. I can tell that she is insecure, and she has admitted to being the middle child of 7 (that supposedly contributed to this behavior). I am sometimes in a hurry and basically frustrated at the situation. How can I politely ask her to quit interrupting when I am speaking? Usually by the end of our one-way conversation, I change my mind about speaking with her entirely. She is a sweet person and works very hard, so I hate to give up on her so quickly.
N.M., Germantown, TN
Being a boss isn’t easy. As the boss you have to deal with personnel and personality problems, and no one likes doing that. But for the sake of harmony in the workplace, it has to be done, and you’re it. In your case the person being affected by a worker’s behavior isn’t another worker, it’s you. You’re dealing with the emotions of being frustrated by a colleague as well as the angst of having to talk to that person as her boss about her behavior. That double whammy makes it difficult, but, like it or not, talk with her you must. So before you consider “giving up on her,” you should first let her know there is a problem and give her the opportunity to change. Frankly, I’m not at all sure she has any idea that what she is doing is annoying you.
It’s best to have this conversation in private. Calling her out in front of others will put the focus on why you are embarrassing her rather than on her inappropriate behavior. After the next incident, wait about five minutes, then seek her out and ask her to meet with you. In the meeting explain that while you appreciate her enthusiasm and contribution, she may not realize that she is interrupting you at times when you really want to be able to complete your message. You would appreciate it if she would wait until you finished having your say before she jumps in with comments of her own.
Then, the next time she starts interrupting you, stop her and say, “Jane, please hold your thought until I’m finished.” Do it with authority, but not in an angry or frustrated tone. Be firm and continue with your message. If she still doesn’t get the message, then you can meet with her again to let her know this continued behavior will have an adverse effect on her job.
By the way: First child, middle child, last child–it’s not an excuse for her behavior. She’s a grown-up now. Treat her like one.