Interrupting is not allowed at meetings

By Ann Macfarlane, Professional Registered Parliamentarian, Jurassic Parliament

Interrupting is one of the most common conversational gambits in our American society. It is not allowed at meetings run according to Robert’s Rules of Order.

We see and hear interruptions all the time. Parents interrupt children; employers interrupt their subordinates, men interrupt women (and occasionally, though less often, women interrupt men). Let’s put a stop to it!

Interrupting = disrespect

Interrupting is a basic sign of disrespect. It puts the clamps on free expression. The person interrupting is perceived as dominant and the person being interrupted is the victim. It shouldn’t happen.

In discussing this topic on page 383-384, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th edition (RONR) says that when a member has been assigned the floor and has begun to speak, he cannot be interrupted by another member.

Robert’s Rules says further that the chair may not interrupt a speaker, even if he knows more about the subject than the speaker does (p. 44). Would that all chairs took this to heart!

Interrupting – an exception

There is an exception to this rule. If someone is saying something completely off the wall, negative, and breaking the rules of courtesy, the chair should stop them, or a member should interrupt to make a Point of Order. In that case, it is OK and indeed a good thing to interrupt.

But though it is allowed to interrupt a speaker to make a Point of Order, people should exercise this right with care. The fact that you CAN do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you SHOULD do it. For example, suppose a member is talking about the motion under consideration and mentions in passing that she believes it would be a good idea to amend the ordinance in a certain respect.

I saw a chair interrupt this speaker to say, “Amending the ordinance is not germane [relevant] to the topic.” In my view, that was a mistake. The member should have been allowed to complete her thought, and the chair could have gently said, “Amending the ordinance is not directly related to our motion, so let’s put that aside for consideration at another time.”

Robert’s Rules allows interrupting a speaker in a few other instances (see RONR, pp. 383-384 and tinted pages 40-41). These are far different, however, from our ordinary conversational type of interrupting. The basic rule is, don’t interrupt another speaker. If you are interrupted, make a Point of Order.

There are other exceptions

(Read our blog post on when interrupting is appropriate here. This post does not discuss all the situations described in Robert, but gives some key instances.)

Eventually, your group will learn this fundamental guideline, and members will treat each other with the respect that they deserve.

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