Cutting People Off

Impatience is a virtue.

If impatience is solely your own, sorry, but you're the asshole. But if impatience is shared, saving your colleagues from a tiresome conversation will make their day.

Notice that a topic should come to a close

When you listen actively, you'll notice when something has already been said. It is much easier (particularly when remote) to give up, zone out, and think about something else. Don't be that person.

Engage with your colleagues! Save yourself and others from the perpetual purgatory that is an ineffective meeting. Pay attention.

Decide whether you are the right person to close a topic

There will be settings where you are the right person to decide if a topic should come to a close: in a small group of relative equals, when you're the appointed facilitator, or you're in some other position of power relative to the individuals or the subject matter. Recognize when you're not in the right position to change what's happening in the moment, and skip to Follow-up for more.

If the group already has expectations about what is or isn't on topic, your interruption should be enough. If it doesn't, or you want to take this opportunity to set a new one, interrupt with a meta-question.

How to deliver this message

I'm not always in the best position to decide whether now is the right time for a topic, so I tend to deliver topic-closing messages as questions:

  • I agree with your point about Thing B, but can we come back to Thing D?
  • We agreed that Person A is going to follow-up with Person C, is there anything more that we need to discuss about Thing B right now?
  • We could discuss Thing B more in this group, but since we're missing Person C's crucial input, should we?
  • I've captured what Person A said here in the notes. Was there anything I missed?
  • I think Person A already said Thing B, shall we move on?
  • It sounds like we're still discussing Thing B after we just agreed not to, am I understanding that correctly?
  • Can we leave it there for now?

If you're not sure if it's the right time for a question, try a meta-question:

  • Is now the right time to decide if we should keep talking about Thing B?
  • Are we going to be able to come to Decision D today?
  • Did we decide on a next step towards Thing B, or is that what you were describing?

Give the group a chance to decide, but don't be afraid to hold them to their decision. These are not questions:

  • We've agreed to that. Let's move on.
  • That's all we needed Person A for, let's let them go.
  • That's all I have for you, I'll let you go.
  • Thank you for your input/time.
  • I understand now.
  • Got it, thanks.


Get feedback on your behavior. This is how you learn.

A retrospective or 1-on-1 would be a good place to find out if the balance was right between gathering/sharing information and staying on topic. Asking someone to watch out for this particular behavior ahead of time will allow them to give you better feedback afterwards.

A colleague once declared me the "queen of cutting people off" because I did so very politely. I have a compliment stickie note from "ruling refinement with an iron fist." We should all be so lucky to have our work appreciated this way.

For more on meta-information, see this post. For more on setting agendas and preparing for meetings to make them effective, see this deck.