While interruptions within conversations occur frequently, the type of interruption can affect the content and flow of the dialogue that follows. For instance, if an interlocutor interrupts a speaker with a totally unrelated question or line of thought, the interruption not only has the potential to frustrate the speaker but can also cause them to lose their train of thought. Interestingly, different people have been found to have unique conversational 'intensity levels', where a 'high-intensity' speaker perceives interruptions in the form of simultaneous talking as a natural way of showing interest in what the speaker has to say, and a 'low-intensity' speaker might find such an interruption rude and distracting, even if it wasn't the interrupter’s intention to disrupt the conversation. Further, these dynamics can be even more challenging when speaking in a virtual environment, as it can be harder to tell when one person is finished speaking. And by understanding these varying levels of conversational 'intensity', advisors can hold more productive client conversations by taking measures to reduce or mitigate the impact of interruptions during client meetings.
In financial planning relationships, interruptions by an advisor can be exponentially more impactful due to the fact that prospects and clients tend to be uncomfortable with jargon and feelings of being judged. When a person is interrupted, even when the interruption is made with no ill intent (e.g., because a client’s comment sparks a potential planning opportunity in the advisor's mind), the conversation can come to a sudden end. Notably, this can work the other way as well, as an advisor might be interrupted by a curious client who is a high-intensity speaker seeking clarification (and not trying to be a jerk!).
One way for advisors to minimize unnecessarily interrupting prospects or clients during meetings is to take notes while their interlocutor is speaking. Using this tactic, the advisor can ensure they remember key facts and potential follow-up questions without interrupting the speaker (another helpful practice is to first ask the client's permission to take notes before doing so, which can enhance the client's confidence by giving them some degree of power and control over the meeting). Yet interruptions are sometimes inevitable – whether they are deliberate or not. For inadvertent interruptions, advisors can 'recover' simply by apologizing and letting the client know they want them to continue speaking (which also potentially reduces the chances that the advisor comes off as rude to the client). For interruptions that need to be made (e.g., to correct a wrong assumption), advisors can phrase their interjection using "Yes, and…" thinking, which conveys acceptance and agreement instead of contradiction and judgment. Alternatively, simply asking for permission or using body language cues can also buffer the impact of interruptions.
Ultimately, the key point is that given the sensitive and personal nature of conversations related to financial planning, advisors can help prospects and clients feel more understood by avoiding and mitigating interruptions during meetings. And by taking measures to reduce the number of interruptions and conveying they didn't mean to be rude when interruptions do happen, advisors not only foster more productive conversations but also make their prospects and clients feel more empowered in the process!
Interruptions And Simultaneous Talking Can Impact Conversations Differently Depending On A Speaker's 'Intensity Level'
According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, an interruption is "something that causes a stoppage or break in the continuity of something". People tend to think of interruptions as exclusively negative, and they are often very problematic when experienced during a conversation. Research supports that interruptions can be a problem for both the listener (the interrupter) and the speaker (the one being interrupted). Not only might the speaker feel frustrated or dismissed when interrupted, but they may also lose their train of thought and forget what they wanted to say. Which means that the listener can be left missing out on key ideas, because they didn’t have a chance to hear the fully formed thought that would have been shared had they not interrupted. Perhaps even more important is that the listener loses the opportunity to build a bond and develop a shared language with the speaker. They don’t get to engage in a meaningful conversation that would have resulted from the dialogue had they not interrupted.
Consider the following exchange:
Me: I had a long day at work. There is a lot going on with the Kitces platform these days… I…
Husband: What’s for dinner?
My husband interrupted me when I was about to tell him about my day and completely changed the subject. These sorts of interruptions are an end to the original subject; there is either a complete stoppage of the conversation or, at the least, a hindering of the speaker's train of thought. We might be simultaneously talking, but it is clear we are having different conversations.
Yet, what if the conversation went as follows:
Me: I had a long day at work. There is a lot going on with the Kitces platform these days… I…
Husband: Oh yeah, what is going on?
Me: Well, let me tell you…
Is my husband interested? Did he stop my train of thought? Is he thinking of something he wants to ask? Is he adding to the story? Is he stopping or hindering my thoughts? In both the 1st and 2nd example dialogues above, my husband and I are simultaneously talking. However, some people (me included) would only describe the 1st one as an interruption. Yet, there are others who would interpret both as an interruption as, for them, any form of simultaneous talking feels disruptive and potentially keeps them from further engaging in the conversation (or at least makes it more difficult for them to do so).
Regardless of how simultaneous speaking may be perceived, people's moods and emotions can also be uniquely affected – both positively and negatively. Importantly, the relational nature of dialogue and the impact that interruption can have on the dynamic between 2 people having a conversation are key not only to financial planning relationships but to all of our relationships.
Katherine Hilton, a linguistics scholar at Stanford University, conducted research that suggested how interruptions – considered to be simultaneous talking (instead of actual interruptions that change the subject) – can affect different people in unique ways. Her work found that people identified as either 'low-intensity' or 'high-intensity' speakers, where low-intensity speakers often consider any type of simultaneous talk as rude, and high-intensity speakers consider simultaneous talk as a sign of engagement.
Furthermore, cultural geography can have a significant influence on an individual’s linguistic patterns and how they communicate and, as such, can impact a person’s conversation style. For example, an East Coast native talking to someone from the Midwest might have a very different interpretation of the same conversation. They may also have very different reactions to interruptions or simultaneous talk.
If the second dialogue above (the one where my husband interrupts but stays on topic) has elicited a strong reaction – readers may relate more to being a low-intensity speaker. For readers who felt no particular reaction, consider the dialogue in the next example, in which Betty is in a work meeting with her employee Donna, simultaneously talking with (or interrupting?) her presentation.
Betty: Tell me a bit more about this report.
Donna: Well, these numbers are from last...
Betty: Wait, what column are you starting with?
Donna: D... D is last year’s numbers, and E is...
Betty: Where did you get this data?
Is Betty interested in what Donna says? Is Betty excited about this report and asking questions – simultaneously talking – because she is really interested and wants to understand and follow along closely? Or is Betty being rude? Betty asked Donna to explain and then interrupted her, not even allowing her to finish a sentence. Readers who identify Betty as interested and engaged are more likely to be high-intensity speakers, and those who interpret Betty as brusque and rude are more likely to be low-intensity speakers.
The key point is that understanding how interruptions impact people differently, causing some to feel frustrated or dismissed and others to feel more engaged and heard, is critical for being a good communicator – regardless of where the conversation takes place or who is engaging in the conversation.
How The Online Environment Complicates The Impact Of Interruptions
Compounding the complexity of interruptions and simultaneous talking are online environments. When 2 parties in the same virtual chat room can’t see one another (because neither party has their camera on) or can only see each other’s face, using physical cues such as leaning back or forward, crossing or uncrossing arms and legs, or even signaling with one’s hands (e.g., gesturing to indicate the other person’s turn, communicating that “I’m done!”, or raising a hand to indicate a question or desire to go next) can be lost.
In an online environment, there can also be lags due to connectivity issues. Lags and physical signs that are difficult to see and/or interpret can give incorrect impressions about when someone is finished talking, which can increase how often people may accidentally talk over each other. Additionally, in an online environment, people are more likely to be distracted by dings and pop-ups, causing them to lose their concentration, which can also lead to more unintended interruptions.
Making a client feel dismissed or frustrated by interrupting them is probably not something an advisor would do on purpose. Yet, this can still happen rather easily, given the different communication styles each of us has, how people tend to react to interruptions and simultaneous talking differently, and how distracting communication environments can make physical cues ambiguous and hard to understand. Understanding these differences in conversation styles as well as the impact the environment has on effective communication can help advisors have more meaningful conversations with clients, which is especially important when discussing complicated and sensitive topics dealing with money.
Interruptions In Financial Planning
As noted earlier, interruptions can cause a person to lose their train of thought. And this can be very difficult for a person, especially when it happens while talking about a difficult or complex subject, especially when they are feeling nervous about the conversation. Many people can feel discouraged and may begin losing confidence in their knowledge or ideas, even becoming more nervous if what they are attempting to discuss is something that is new or uncomfortable and if they are trying to have that discussion with someone they consider knowledgeable or respectable – essentially power dynamics, as well as the content of the conversation itself, also magnify the impact of the interruption. In fact, when clients say things like, “Oh, never mind. I’m not even sure what I’m talking about”, this is often an indication that they were interrupted and lost their train of thought or that they no longer feel confident or comfortable proceeding with the conversation.
Confidence And Perceived Power
For example, advisors might imagine meeting with Michael Kitces and talking about a complicated tax situation that makes them feel uneasy – they understand the idea, but this is their first time really trying to discuss it and talk about the varied issues and components. Now imagine that as the advisor tries their best to explain the problem, Michael interrupts them. Michael loves to talk about tax, and because he is an East-coaster and a great 'participatory listener', he excitedly interjects because he is so engaged in the topic. But his interruption surprises the advisor, who loses their train of thought. They struggle to remember what they just said and resign themselves to simply taking a backseat and letting Michael lead the conversation (of course, this is all purely hypothetical!). It is clear how the power dynamic, speaking intensity, and topic all play into the chaos of the conversation. It is clear how the power dynamic, speaking intensity, and topic all play into the chaos of the conversation.
In financial planning relationships, interruptions can be exponentially more impactful due to the fact that prospects and clients tend to be uncomfortable with jargon and feelings of being judged (as an advisor might feel in talking about a complicated tax scenario with tax experts like Michael Kitces or Jeffrey Levine). When a person is interrupted, even when the interruption is made with no ill intention (e.g., perhaps the interruption arises from extreme enthusiasm or excitement over a topic), the conversation can come to a sudden end. Notably, research on conversational interruptions conducted by Sally Farley at the University of Baltimore suggests that a person who interrupts may often be seen as powerful but less likable by the speaker. For most financial advisors, this is probably not the desired outcome.
Research by Katherine Hilton also suggested that gender can play a role in how individuals perceive interruptions. Males in her research study listening to an audio recording between 2 other people were "more likely to view women who interrupted another speaker in the audio clips as ruder, less friendly, and less intelligent than men who interrupted", even though those who interrupted the speaker – both male and female – were following identical scripts in the audio clips.
This result brings to mind a common scenario that many female financial advisors can relate to. When meeting with client couples (male/female), male partners are more likely to be taken aback or to express displeasure when their female advisor interrupts – even when the interruption is in the form of simultaneous talking that arises because of engagement in the conversation. Yet for male advisors who interrupt a client couple, male clients are sometimes more likely to express their respect for the advisor for their knowledge and confidence.
Conversational Intensity Levels
Discrepancies between high-intensity speakers (who use simultaneous talking as a way to show interest and normally do not consider it an interruption) and low-intensity speakers (who tend to always consider simultaneous talking as interruptions) can also explain why advisors might find certain clients more or less difficult to have conversations within meetings. If the client and advisor have different conversational intensity levels, the person with the lower-intensity conversational level may find that they are being interrupted frequently and that it makes them feel annoyed or, even worse, combative. Regardless of which person is low-intensity and which is high-intensity, a large disparity can lead to challenging relationship problems if the impact of interruptions is not recognized.
This is not to say that simply understanding this dynamic won’t make the problem of interruptions go away. But it can give some clarity into how interruptions make others feel and affect their ability to communicate. And it might help an advisor who may be a low-intensity speaker refrain from thinking of some of their difficult clients who seem to always interrupt them as 'jerks'… perhaps the client is a high-intensity conversationalist who loves engaging with their planner and speaking simultaneously with someone is simply their way of being engaged in the conversation. For some advisors, this may be enough of a reframe – seeing a difficult client as engaged instead of seeing them as being intentionally rude can improve the dynamic of the relationship substantially over time.
Not interrupting a client or prospect can often make it easier for clients to feel more at ease bringing up problems and talking through complex ideas, which can also move the needle on trust, kindness, openness, and knowledge. Unless the advisor is sure the client or prospect is a high-intensity speaker, it is usually better to converse with them as if they were low-intensity speakers and refrain from interrupting them as much as possible.
Although avoiding interruptions when clients and prospects are speaking are good practices to follow, the reality is that some degree of interruptions is inevitable. Recognizing how interruptions impact people differently depending on their conversational intensity level, how they can affect the dynamics of a conversation, and recognizing one's own low- or high-impact speaking level are all important steps in figuring out how to better deal with interruptions when they do happen.
While understanding conversational intensity levels can be helpful in reframing relationship dynamics with difficult clients more positively, sometimes advisors will meet prospects and clients who may simply be jerks. There is no need to feel abused, walked on, unhappy, or frustrated. If advisors find this is happening with a client and aren’t sure how to best handle the situation, asking another advisor to join the meeting for additional feedback on the situation can help the advisor determine if firing the client or transferring them over to a different advisor would make sense. Advisors have every right to decide what is working for them and to take measures to change what isn’t working for them.
How To Interrupt Less And Start Over When You Do
One of the best ways to avoid interrupting and improve client conversations is to take notes. And when advisors take a moment at the start of a meeting to explain that they will be doing so, it helps prospects and clients understand what the advisor is doing and that they are, in fact, paying attention. Which can be very reassuring because, for many people, visiting a financial advisor can be a stressful and daunting experience, similar to visiting a psychoanalyst or doctor. And when professionals ask the same questions they’ve asked 1,000 times before, sometimes a client might perceive the questions as impersonal or perhaps even judgmental.
Introducing The Idea Of Note-taking And Asking For Client Permission
Importantly, telling clients and prospects what to expect in advance will help to make the advisor's note-taking seem less like they’re recording an interrogation, which can also help to minimize the client’s anxiety. Furthermore, after explaining what they intend to do and why, asking the client if that would be okay with them can also be very useful to alleviate anxiety while giving the client a brief power boost.
As mentioned earlier, power dynamics during difficult conversations, especially when it comes to sensitive topics such as personal finances, can make it very uncomfortable for some individuals to speak freely and share their points of view. But offering a person some level of control by asking for their permission can give them a sense of power and encourage them to share more willingly. Additionally, by giving the advisor permission to take notes, the client is, on some level, pre-committing themselves to actually engage in the conversation... so that the advisor has something to take notes on!
Consider the following examples that show how advisors can use different approaches to explain their notetaking:
To convey excitement and engagement:
Before we begin, I just want to point out that I’ll be taking some notes. I do this because I love hearing client stories, and I tend to get so interested I get very tempted to jump in and interrupt with all the questions that I want to ask. But because I don’t want to interrupt you, I take notes so that I can ask those questions later when you’re finished. Is that alright with you?
To help the advisor remember important points:
As we get started, I just want to say I am going to take notes to make sure that I remember important details about your situation that I will want to ask follow-up questions about – I would be happy to share my notes with you at the end if you’d like to see them. Do you have any issues with me taking notes?
To explain note-taking during an online meeting:
Hi, thanks for being here. Before we get going, I want to point out that I have a 2nd screen for my tech setup, and on that screen I have a Word document open where I will be taking notes as we talk, and as I take notes, I will, at times, look away from the camera. I want to assure you that it doesn’t mean I’m ignoring you – I am most certainly paying attention to you; in fact, I want to catch all the important details of everything you say so we can follow up on any questions and action items later. I can share that document with you at the end of the meeting if you’d like to see them. I can also share them with you during the meeting if you have a question – does that sound like a plan? Any objections or questions?
Any of the above approaches can be good ways to introduce the fact to the client that the advisor will take notes and why it’s important. When the advisor asks the prospect or client if taking notes is okay, it briefly gives the power and control of the meeting to the client, and that can feel very good.
Recovering From Inadvertently Interrupting A Client With An Apology
While taking notes is a good way to avoid interrupting a client while they’re talking during a meeting, interruptions can still happen. In fact, they probably will happen. Especially for advisors with a high-impact speaking style, interruptions can be a natural way to express how much they care about the conversation and how engaged they are with their client.
So what can an advisor do when they accidentally interrupt their client during a conversation?
Apologizing is simple and effective. A simple physical gesture of putting your hand to your heart and sincerely letting them know you want them to continue can go a long way in quickly repairing and encouraging them to continue.
Here are a few ways to phrase an apology:
- Sorry, I did not mean to interrupt; I want to hear what you were saying…
- I apologize; please continue. This is great…
- Excuse me; what you're saying is important. Please continue; I want to hear your thoughts…
- I didn’t mean to jump in; please go ahead. I want to hear all that you have to say…
- Ah, sorry. What you’re saying is just so interesting; I have so many follow-up questions. I'll write those down so I won’t interrupt you again. Please keep going; what you’re saying is important.
Encouraging the speaker to keep going is an important part of the apology, especially when the conversation is about money. Again, clients and prospects – most people who are not financial advisors – don’t talk a lot about money or try to explain financial ideas very often. Which means that it can be very easy for them to lose their train of thought. As such, being sure to say in the apology something that speaks to confidence is very useful. And by encouraging the client to continue speaking with subtle comments meant to build their confidence (e.g., "I want to hear..." or "This is great/interesting") instead of overt praises that can come across as condescending (e.g., "Oh, you are doing so wonderful talking about numbers, look at you!"), the client will be more likely to understand that the advisor’s interest and support are genuine. Letting someone know you want to hear them or that what they are saying is being interpreted as great or interesting gives them confidence.
When Interrupting Is Necessary
While it is often better to avoid interrupting clients whenever possible, there are times when an advisor may feel interrupting is necessary. For instance, if a client gives incorrect information, it may be important for the advisor to correct them before getting into a more detailed conversation. In these instances, there are some strategies that can help advisors interrupt clients without offending them.
Use And, Not But
Sometimes, an advisor may feel compelled to respond to a client’s statement with a counterpointing idea before allowing the conversation to move any further. In these instances, exchanging the word "but" with "and" is a powerful strategy commonly used by improv performers that can help advisors mitigate the impact of simultaneous talking when responding to a client's thoughts. While this tactic may seem very simple, it can be highly effective and has also been used by business consultants as a way to transform 'divergent' thinking to 'convergent' thinking in order to resolve conflicts and improve communication.
Consider the exchange below and how the word "but" at the end of the advisor’s interruption establishes an adversarial tone for the ensuing dialogue:
Client: I really think that my company’s stock is going to take off. I know you've told me before that I already have a high concentration of single-company stock, but I think this is for the best… I…
Advisor: Right, that's a good point, BUT…I have another point I want to add.
While the advisor might just want to share some very important knowledge about diversification or something else, the word "but" suggests that a conflicting viewpoint is about to be introduced, which can make the interruption feel abrasive to the client.
However, consider the effect of substituting "but" with "and" in the following exchange:
Client: I really think that my company’s stock is going to take off. I know you’ve told me before that I already have a high concentration of single-company stock, but I think this is for the best… I…
Advisor: Right, that's a good point, AND…I have another point I want to add to it.
In this exchange, the advisor's interruption sets the stage for new information that will support the client instead of a statement that will negate or contradict them. This small change introduces a gentler interjection that leans more into the idea of simultaneous talk over a disruptive interruption. "And" says we are on the same page talking together, while "But" implies the speaker has something to say that will somehow contrast against what was just said.
Using Body Language And Asking For Permission To Interrupt
Recognizing that body language can be used to 'interrupt' without actually interrupting can be helpful for advisors to do so without being disruptive. For example, in face-to-face meetings with clients, advisors can physically lean in. Uncrossing their legs or arms can demonstrate excitement or interest, offering a nonverbal cue indicating that the advisor wants to pitch into the conversation. Even raising their hand can be used as a way for the advisor to express interest in adding something without verbally interrupting the client.
In virtual settings, the hand-raise function in many chat programs (or actual hands to signal attention) can be used to demonstrate that the advisor has something to say can also work. Once the speaker slows down, the advisor can ask for permission to talk.
Here are a few ways to ask for permission to interrupt:
- This is great. Would you mind if I share what is coming up for me?
- This is a lot of important information; may I take a moment and repeat back to you what I am hearing?
- You have shared a lot of useful information. I have a few follow-up questions; may I run through a few of those?
The above questions show appreciation for what the client has said, which helps to convey that the advisor was listening to the client and not just waiting to talk. And as noted before, asking for permission can boost a client’s confidence, giving them a sense of feeling respected and in control.
Invitations To Encourage Low-Intensity Clients To Talk
Low-intensity conversationalists don't like to be interrupted when they speak, and they don't want to interrupt others who are speaking. To ensure that these clients stay engaged in the conversation, stopping and asking for feedback is a simple way to encourage low-intensity clients to participate in the conversation.
The following phrases are some ways advisors can invite low-intensity clients to talk:
- That is all I have; can you tell me what is on your mind?
- Those are my initial thoughts; would you share with me what you are thinking?
- That is how I see it; give me some of your ideas.
These are simple invitations that can feel good but very obviously indicate to a low-intensity conversationalist – hey… your turn!
Ultimately, by understanding that people have varying levels of conversational 'intensity' when it comes to how interruptions are perceived, advisors can take specific measures to enhance the quality of their client conversations. Taking notes can be a useful way to avoid interrupting clients, and explaining why doing so matters can reassure clients that the advisor is acting with their best interest in mind. In addition to notetaking, there are also strategies that advisors can use to help them recover from inadvertent interruptions and, when interruptions are necessary or important, to deliberately interrupt graciously and with minimal disruption.