Business Lessons from Interrupting Chicken


By Michelle Curran

Interrupting Chicken is one of my all-time favorite books, not just to read to my kids, but in its overall message. Written by David Ezra Stein, it tells the tale of a beleaguered Papa Chicken attempting to read bedtime stories to “Chicken.” Persistent in his efforts to lull Chicken to sleep with fairy tales, Chicken foils each attempt through constant interruptions, frustrating poor Papa and quickly turning the tables on what was initially intended to be joyful quality time.

The story can ring a little too true in our daily conversations – not just with family, but with clients, co-workers and anyone we cross in our daily routines. Sure, we all love talking and sharing. And we like when people listen and “hear” us. In our eagerness to share a thought or engage in conversation, we frequently talk on top of and interrupt each other now and then. It happens, but it’s not a big deal, right?

Not so. In our excitement to share a thought, we not only miss an opportunity to gain a valuable insight or learning, but we completely strikeout on the opportunity to be an active listener and contribute on a higher level and in a meaningful way. Moreover, a constant interrupter can become a source of frustration in a high-functioning team who feel they cannot get a word in. In a worst-case scenario, some may give up on contributing altogether.

Here are some useful tips on working the conversation with over-eager contributors:

  1. Speak up and ask to finish what you were saying: Yes, you just got cut off again. Politely speak up and call out that you’d like to finish the thought and then you are happy to “pass the mic” when finished.
  1. Keep On Talking: Reading the room, it may make more sense to keep talking and finish your thought. There will more than likely be a few moments of talking on top of each other, and you may need to repeat your thought, but the room will recognize the input.
  1. Ask for Group Input: “We’ve heard from XX, but what do others think?” Direct focus away from the conversation leader, and turn it over to the group so that each person has an opportunity to contribute.
  1. Talk to the person privately.: Most of the time, you’ll find that the individual is completely unaware.

The moral of this story? Take turns, recognize that everyone in a team is a valuable contributor, and take the opportunity to be an active listener not just the talker. Your team may just come up with that amazing idea TOGETHER that makes a difference.