thoughts and reflections from the CSA Faculty

The Act of Interrupting

Written by CSA Supervisor Julie Johnson

Leaders – have you ever found yourself interrupting someone you are trying to coach? Interrupting is a fascinating topic. What’s really going on?


In all fairness, there are occasions when it might make sense and be productive to interrupt. Here are a few real-life examples that took place during action learning moments in JJC’s ‘Coaching is an Art’ program:


  • While your coachee is in the process of telling a story, you might notice a precious opportunity to explore something they just said in more depth – before the moment passes.
  • Your coachee might be conducting a long monologue that you’ve heard before – with no apparent new insights (read: ‘broken record’), and you decide to challenge possible limiting beliefs.
  • Your coachee might be taking the conversation in a direction that appears to have nothing to do with the topic at hand, and you interrupt in order to ask how their words relate to the original goal.
  • You might notice something about your coachee’s nonverbal communication (a deep sigh, a look of sadness, a laugh, a long pause, a change of tone) and decide to ask what that is about.


‘Coaching is an Art’ is a program designed for leaders wishing to develop a strong coaching leadership style. Click here for more details


These can be extremely useful moments and ways to interrupt your coachee. AND, they are very courageous interventions that one can skillfully learn to apply.


Having said that, there are a number of reasons a coach might interrupt which do NOT serve their coachee. Why? Anytime we interrupt, we risk losing precious new insights that our coachee is creating at that very moment. In order to assess whether this risk is worth taking, the coach needs to understand why interrupting seems to be the right thing to do in the moment. Ultimately, the purpose of interrupting should be to create an opportunity for the coachee to explore more fertile territory.


The truth is that, from time to time, almost all coaches are guilty of interrupting to serve their own agenda, rather than their coachee’s! Your answers to these questions will help you to figure out whether an interruption was well-intentioned – or not:


  • Do you have a ‘perfect solution’ blaring in your mind? If so, you might be more focused on that and less on helping your coachee find their own solution.
  • Do you have a burning question you just couldn’t wait to ask (shifting the conversation to your own agenda)? If so, does your agenda serve your coachee?
  • Were you feeling bored (that’s interesting!), and if so, why? 
  • Do you ‘already know’ what they were going to say next? If so, did you find yourself listening less? And, was your assumption correct (or not)?
  • Do you actually remember what they were talking about at the moment you interrupted? If not, you weren’t listening.



Coaches who are aware of the context that exists when considering whether or not to interrupt will succeed at both managing themselves and raising the level of the coaching conversation. Consider spending a week being hyper-aware of your interruption habits while you coach – I trust that your learnings will be fascinating!


Julie has been a CSA Accredited Supervisor since 2014. With a career in coaching and leadership development that began in the early 1990’s, Julie Johnson is among the most experienced coaches and facilitators in Europe. She has worked with thousands of individuals from over 50 countries across six continents. She teaches leadership at Rotterdam School of Management’s Executive MBA program.