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Interrupting is violence

When I heard someone say “interrupting is violence” the other day I reflexively agreed.

Something about that phrase has got me realising again and again how useful the word “violence” is in helping us think differently about the impact of non-physical actions.

What is violence?

Most traditional definitions look something like this:

the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy.


However, we know that it’s possible to injure, abuse, damage or destroy something in ways other than physical. Therefore, it can be appropriate to use the term “violence” for any non-physical act that results in non-physical injury, abuse, damage or destruction.

I’m not a violent person

Imagine you are at an event with a group of people. A member of wait staff enters the room with a tray of canapés. Most people wait to be offered the food, but some people push the others out of the way and proceed to just take the food without invitation – sometimes even from others’ plates.

This is the physical equivalent of interrupting in a meeting. The option to participate in each topic of conversation is like a new plate of canapés. People would like to have a choice in whether to partake – perhaps they are hungry, perhaps not. Perhaps this is their favourite dish, perhaps they don’t like it. They may be waiting for the next one to come out.

Perhaps they have something to say – did anyone ask them? A good host will ensure that each person has a chance to take their share if they want it. Not just with one plate, but with each new plate that comes out.

Most people would never consider themselves to be violent just by interrupting in a meeting, but how does it feel to you if you get repeatedly interrupted? Does it feel like an attack?

Does it feel like someone just pushed you out of the way and took something from you?

PsYchological safety

So, maybe you agree that interrupting feels like violence – that it is violence.

It fits into the bigger picture of safety – both physical and psychological. You could call interrupting a micro-aggression, I’d support that view.

Psychological safety is developed and maintained through regular reflection and lots of practice. I’m glad I had a chance to think again about it when I heard someone say “interrupting is violence”.

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