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Please stop interrupting me! Right? Wrong?

Uploaded: Oct 6, 2021
Some people are shy. They don't talk much. Some people like to talk; some love to talk, and talk, oftentimes without seemingly coming up for a breath of air. Some people usurp air time. Some just love to hear their own voice.

So, this brings up the issue of interrupting someone who is speaking. Rude? Impolite? Necessary? Depends what part of the country you are from.

I grew up in a small suburb, about an hour's ride from New York City. It's an area where people talk fast, and also feel culturally free to interrupt someone who is speaking. Some just add a short comment, others take total control of the airtime. It's also a part of the country where I realized as I grew up that people loved to discuss, argue, question and occasionally deliberately provoke others. That all meant people were involved and having a good time. It's just the way things worked there.

I remember my mother's voice was strong and distinct (alas, a gene I did not inherit.) At parties, her voice stood out, and she could overtalk anyone else who was speaking.

My father-in-law, who grew up in the Midwest, talked very very s l o w l y. It would take him two minutes to say what New Yorkers could do in seconds. I was polite when he talked, but it was hard. Just get to your point, I would think.

Here in northern California, we seem to have two unwritten rules: 1) do not interrupt, 2) try to say only nice things. I unconsciously break those rules most of the time.

For example, I have this one friend who also talks slowly. And when I think he's through and I start to speak, he says, unbroken by my thought, "But also, remember..." I guess I just haven't got the interruption timing right yet, even after years of living here.

On the other hand, those who talk and talk and usurp all the airtime are a problem for me. What entitles them to routine lengthy monologues? Is s/he a narcissist? selfish? self-centered? failing to realize the air time s/he takes?

Or am I the problem because I'm rude? demanding? unfairly stealing time from another? or even violating that person's right to the floor?

I guess there are no right or wrong answers here -- it just depends which side of the fence you are on, how you were raised, and when your conventional style clashes with another's.

I have a relative who calls with an opening "I need to tell you about ... " He does, nonstop, for at least 25 minutes, then finally asks, "How are you doing?" "Well," I say and he interrupts with a "Oh, it's 4:30 already and I have an important call I need to make right now." I once confronted him on his monologues, and he responded, "Well, I get passionate about what I'm working on." My problem is his passion is not my passion. If h he gave five-minute summaries, I would be more enthused.

In a recent NYT Sunday column, "In Real Life, Not All Interruptions Are Rude," Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, a native New Yorker, and the inspiration for this blog, presented a positive spin on these interruptions, calling the practice, "cooperative overlapping."

One former New Yorker told Tannen that when he moved to California, he had to try hard to stay with the conversation because some people were talking so slowly! Same is true for me when a person goes on and on. My attention wanders.

Interruptions can add to a conversation, she said, because not only does it fuel thoughtful fires, but it is also letting the speaker know that not only are you listening, but also provide him with another idea to consider as he moves forward. Ever have a conversation with someone who doesn't say a word, nor nod his head, nor volunteer a quick response? I think that maybe she doesn't listen, or worse, even care about what I am saying. As Tannen said her preference is to gently say, "Don't just sit there, please overlap, cooperatively."

Tannen made a couple of other observations, based on her studies:
• Some people think the interrupters and talkers are dominating the conversation, while those who talk a lot think the others are choosing not to join in.
• People are afraid of awkward pauses in a conversation. Some talkers admit they keep on talking to avoid the pauses.
• Men interrupt more than women do. (I could write a whole column on this!)

Women who have worked in corporate offices complain that men don't listen to them as much as to other males at the same meeting. One friend told me she was at a company board meeting and made what she thought was a very important point, and no one responded. About 15 minutes later, a man in the room made the exact same point. Other males replied, "That's a great idea, Tom! We should absolutely do that." She blurted out with, "But I made the same point 15 minutes ago!"

She wasn't invited to any more board meetings. Other female friends of mine quickly agree the same thing happened to them.

So, we still have a lot more to learn about talking interrupting and listening. Tannen suggests that if you feel interrupted, just keep on talking. But she also says, "Don't interrupt" can be a reasonable request, but also it's great to suggest a person not just sit there -- "Please overlap -- cooperatively."
What is it worth to you?


Posted by vmshadle, a resident of Meadow Park,
on Oct 7, 2021 at 1:14 pm

vmshadle is a registered user.

Two people close to me are what I term "anxiety interrupters." When I am listening to, for example, new information or instructions or the like, I want to listen until the speaker finishes before I ask questions.

I am not sure what drives the anxiety of my interrupters, but I spend a lot of time cutting them off and asking them to let the speaker finish! Augh!!!

Posted by DianaDiamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 8, 2021 at 10:51 am

DianaDiamond is a registered user.

Let me ask my question a different way. Do you get upset when people interrupt you? Do you tell them about it?
Or do you get upset when people talk too much? For those obsessive/compulsive talkers, what can/should? we say to them?
Or should we just accept the way everyone is?

Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Oct 8, 2021 at 2:02 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Nobody likes being interrupted. It's rude. Wait until someone pauses, and then chime in. That being said, I've read that sometimes you have to interrupt someone because some people will go on and on. I don't know if I agree with that, but it's food for thought.

The long winded monologue crowd. Thankfully, they're few and far between. I try to avoid them because it's very draining, and I don't need the aggravation. I believe it's anxiety related. Probably an anxiety disorder.

I do except people the way they are or I disassociate with them.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 9, 2021 at 4:05 am

Resident is a registered user.

Nice topic, I have thoughts about this constantly, because I'm usually *thinking* and *doing* rather than *talking*.
What disappoints me is the low level of discourse from "talkers". People who run their mouth all the time will create cliques, talk about "current events" based on nonsense news headlines, then it becomes a long vapid conversation that never needed to happen in the first place, taking time from other things that actually matter, then they'll go and and on about a low-level topic sucking up all the oxygen and oblivious to how much they're overtalking, and its generally worthless small talk and banter, at best humorous and at worst terribly distracting and unsettling. It is so important to keep the noise out and focus more on books, articles and substantial discourse, and the rare intelligent conversation you may have with someone which is really hard to find.
Then again I'm introverted to a fault and if I had my way no one would say anything at all, it would keep my mind clean. Silence is golden

Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Oct 10, 2021 at 11:44 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

Re: "Nobody likes being interrupted"
I'm OK with being interrupted, as long as it's relevant and advances the conversational topic. It's sort of pointless to go on talking only to find out afterwards that your point was moot.

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