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How to Get Your 2 Cents in --in an Agreeable Manner

December 14, 1986

How do you interrupt somebody without creating hostility?

Here are two sets of tactics, one from Christen Brown, a Beverly Hills-based communications consultant who trains business executives and talk-show participants on how to break into the conversations of others. The other is from Ted Koppel, host of ABC-TV's "Nightline," who frequently interrupts interviewees in a manner considered professional and effective by many communications experts.

Brown: "You first try alignment tactics. The best way to interrupt is by agreeing. You say 'exactly,' or 'yes,' as politely as you can and then use that as an entree into what you need to say. If that doesn't work, then you say, 'Excuse me.' It's also polite and when said in a nice, agreeable tone, usually the person will then graciously allow you to speak.

A Heavier Tone

"Now, if you've already agreed with them and you've said 'excuse me' and you still can't speak, then you've got to use a heavier tone of voice. You've got to put some irritation in your voice and make a stronger statement like, 'Would you be willing to let me finish my statement before you make yours?'

"For television and radio work, one of the things we teach people who are extremely unassertive and who tend to get interrupted a lot is to raise their voices and continue talking even when they're interrupted. I can guarantee that if you continue talking while a TV or radio interviewer is talking, the interviewer will eventually stop talking. When two people talk, they scramble the audio. But if this is not done properly it can give a bad impression and make you look too controlling. The only places this is not likely to work are on tightly controlled shows such as 'Nightline.' "

Koppel: "I think it (interrupting effectively) has to do more specifically with what I think is the key to interviewing: listening precisely to what your interviewee is saying.

Dodging the Questions

"If you do, you come to a set of extraordinary conclusions. One, you realize when they're being repetitious. Two, you realize when they're dodging the questions. Three, you eventually realize when they've said what they basically need to say. Since people rarely have the capacity of deciding that for themselves, at least in the context of a live television interview program, I have to do that for them. In each of those instances, that constitutes interrupting, but it's not as if I'm sitting there waiting to interrupt them."

Koppel, who is known for such direct phrases as "'Just let me ask the question" or "You're going to wind up using all the time and I won't let you," stressed that his interruption style is dictated, in part, by the fact that his program is broadcast live.

"There is a difference between a live television show and one that's taped for television. When you see me interrupt, what you see is the editing process . . . on a live program, the editing is done before your eyes."

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