You’re reading an excerpt of Stop Asking Questions, by Andrew Warner, a veteran podcast host of 2000+ episodes. The book explains how to lead high-impact interviews and learn anything from anyone. Master the craft of interviewing with this complete digital package. Purchase now for lifetime access to the book and extensive audio and video resources.
Smoothly Cut Off Guests without Offense
I thought he’d be livid.
After months of convincing an entrepreneur to come onto Mixergy for an interview, I spent much of the conversation interrupting him. Talk about a terrible host, right?
But I had to do it. He was going on and on and taking us off-track. I couldn’t let my listeners put up with that. So I interrupted him—quite a bit.
After the interview, I prepared for him to rip into me.
Instead, he said, “Thanks for getting me back on track. I’m not good at public speaking. I found myself droning on and didn’t know how to get back to my point. I can see why my friends like being interviewed by you. You’re good.”
Interruptions are considered a cardinal sin of polite society. But when done right, they not only improve your conversations—they also make your counterpart look better in the process. When people struggle to get a point across, they start to talk in circles. Instead of clarifying, they make their point less clear with each round of explanations. Most people, like my interview guest, will appreciate your help sounding competent.
So how did I interrupt this entrepreneur without being rude or embarrassing him? I wasn’t exactly sure how I did it myself. So I examined the transcript.
Turns out, I stumbled upon a surprisingly simple solution—a short phrase that exonerated me from any breach of conversation etiquette:
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“I’m sorry to interrupt, but …”
Then I’d complete the sentence by explaining why I was interrupting and often citing my higher purpose.
I don’t know where I learned this technique, but I used it for years without realizing it. Searching through my 2,100+ transcripts, I discovered more than 170 instances of me saying “I’m sorry to interrupt.”
I’ll refrain from calling out any particular entrepreneurs in this section. Instead, here are some examples to show you just how effective this magical little phrase can be:
I’m sorry to interrupt, but I really want to get into the details of this.
I’m sorry to interrupt, but [you said] “fanatical optimism.” How do you maintain fanatical optimism?
I’m sorry to interrupt, but I really want to understand this concept because …
I’m sorry to interrupt, but this is something that I need to learn from you …
I’m sorry to interrupt, but I want to talk more in depth about that …
Don’t get me wrong—interrupting someone does not feel natural to most people. It will make you feel rude and awkward at first. You’re doing something every teacher and authority figure taught you not to do.
A “sorry to interrupt” moment is when you interrupt and share why you’re interrupting. People won’t think you’re rude—they’ll think you’re considerate. If you’re interrupting for a meaningful reason, your guest will appreciate it.
Not every interruption is created equal. Saying “sorry to interrupt, but you’re boring me” is extremely rude and will lose you a friend or colleague. On the other hand, “sorry to interrupt, but I really want to make sure I understand what you’re saying” is flattering and will win you a fan for life.
A few years ago, I helped a few dozen members of my audience start interviewing. In a weekly meeting, one of them said, “I worry about not paying attention to my interviewee’s answer and being stuck finding a way to respond.” That’s much more common than people realize because many interviewers edit those goofs out.
I was sweating when that happened to me in my interview with Mike Jones, an entrepreneur who sold his company to AOL. My audience, at the time, was limited to the small Los Angeles tech community, where everyone knew Mike as one of its most successful members. I felt pressure to get the interview right.
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