Good Teams Will Work to Share Air Time

Posted by Kristin Arnold on November 5, 2010

Many teams suffer with constant interruptions of team “airtime.”  Airtime is one of the most valuable team commodities because most people are largely influenced (for better or worse) by whoever is speaking!

As a speaker, you want to be clear and concise, say what needs to be said and influence your fellow teammates.  And as the listener, you should be attentive to the speaker, listen with your ears and your heart for what is said as well as what is spoken between the lines.  Add several listeners into the mix, and you must balance the conversation so all have a chance to be heard.

With this type of open and clear communication, teams engage in a rich dialogue with meaningful outcomes.  And you can’t do this without respecting each others’ airtime.

Interruptions signify a breach of that respect.

But before you go blaming someone else, look in the mirror.  When you speak, are you speaking clearly and concisely?  Or do you drone on forever?  Can others contribute to your ideas without interrupting you?  Have you established ground rules to explicitly prevent this undesirable behavior?  The problem might be with you, not with your teammate.

But let’s just say your teammate is an air-hog.  Try these techniques to smother this nasty habit:

Establish Ground Rules.  Suggest the team create some ground rules to clearly state the behavioral expectations of the team, such as “no interruptions,”  “listen intently,” or “one person speaks at a time.”  Not only do these ground rules prevent the unwanted behavior, but when someone interrupts, you may then gently remind him of the ground rules.

Be Understanding.  “Interruptions occur from time to time and the person who interrupted you most likely isn’t even aware of his actions,” explains Barbara Pachter, a business communications expert  (  “By responding to the interruption in a rude manner can hurt your credibility.”  So it’s important to give feedback when you notice an interruption.  A simple reminder of the ground rule might do the trick.  But if the behavior persists, you owe it to your teammate to graciously point out this behavior and how it affects you and the team’s dynamic.

Finish Your Point.  Pachter also believes you should continue with what you were saying.  Stand your ground when interrupted.  Hold your hand up and say, “I’d like to continue…”  After a few times, the other person may get the hint!

Be Clear, but Polite.  If the interrupter doesn’t get the hint, Pachter suggests using firm statements such as “I’ll discuss that as soon as I’m finished”; “I’ll be happy to address that as soon as I finish my thought”; and “Hold that thought.”  Or, “Excuse me, I wasn’t finished.”

Use a Gatekeeper.  Finally, if there are constant interruptions and side conversations, consider using a “gatekeeper,” one person on the team who is responsible for assigning airtime.  The gatekeeper ensures all speakers finish their thoughts, makes sure all team members have a chance to speak, and sets the order when several people want to speak at a time (often called queuing). 

Interruptions are a natural part of team work.  It’s what you do when an interruption occurs.  If you are the interrupter, say you’re sorry and ward off making it a habit.  If you are being interrupted, be gracious and understanding while firmly standing your ground.

Question:  Do your team members respect each others’ airtime?

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