The 15-year-old book Microsoft’s CEO asked his execs to read says the best way to handle a boring conversation is to interrupt as soon as you can

  • Interrupting people may seem impolite, but it’s the best way to inject life into a boring conversation.
  • That’s one of the points in “Nonviolent Communication,” a book that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made his senior leadership team read when he took over in 2014.
  • “The best time to interrupt is when we’ve heard one word more than we want to hear,” author Marshall B. Rosenberg wrote.

There are few things more uncomfortable at a party than getting stuck in a lifeless, one-sided conversation.

If you’ve found yourself in one of these dull interactions, you know how hard it can be to change the subject or make a graceful exit. Meanwhile, mentioning how bored you could hurt the feelings of your conversation partner.

But that’s exactly what one expert recommends to inject life into a dead conversation.

Psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg wrote in his 2003 book “Nonviolent Communication” that interrupting someone can be a powerful conversational tool that leads to more shared empathy between people.

In his book, Rosenberg argues that communication breaks down when people fail to articulate their needs and feelings. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella famously made the members of his senior leadership team read the book when he took over in 2014.

“Our intention in interrupting is not to claim the floor for ourselves, but to help the speaker connect to the life energy behind the words being spoken,” Rosenberg writes in the book.

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At one point, Rosenberg described a cocktail party he attended in which he was “in the midst of an abundant flow of words that to me seemed lifeless.” He decided to take matters into his own hands:

“Excuse me,” Rosenberg said to the other members of his conversation circle. “I’m feeling impatient because I’d like to be more connected with you, but our conversation isn’t creating the kind of connection I’m wanting. I’d like to know if the conversation we’ve been having is meeting your needs, and if so, what needs of yours are being met through it.'”

As might be expected, the other people in the group “stared at me as if I had thrown a rat in the punch bowl,” Rosenberg wrote. Recognising their surprise, he asked the original speaker, “Are you annoyed with my interrupting because you would have liked to continue the conversation?”

His answer shocked him even more.

“No, I’m not annoyed,” the speaker said. “I was thinking about what you were asking. And no, I wasn’t enjoying the conversation; in fact, I was totally bored with it.”

Rosenberg said the experience taught him the value of interrupting someone, even though it can be hard to muster the courage to actually speak up. To remedy that, he recommends chiming in before it’s too late.

“I’d suggest the best time to interrupt is when we’ve heard one word more than we want to hear,” Rosenberg wrote. “The longer we wait, the harder it is to be civil when we do step in.”

He later conducted an informal survey asking people the following question: “If you are using more words than somebody wants to hear, do you want that person to pretend to listen or to stop you?” All but one respondent said they preferred to be stopped, he wrote.

“Their answers gave me courage by convincing me that it is more considerate to interrupt people than to pretend to listen,” he wrote. “All of us want our words to enrich others, not to burden them.”