I was glued to the TV during the recent “debates” between candidates for President and Vice President. Watching them took me to a word, arguably one of the most despised words in communications…. Interruptions!
Now can I get a shout out from those of you who like being interrupted? Silence. Okay then, how about one from those in addition to me who suffer from occasional bouts of interruptionitis?I-CAN’T-HEAR-YOU!
Here’s the point: Folks don’t like being interrupted and consider it downright rude. And the problem is that many who resent being interrupted won’t say anything. Instead, they’re apt to seethe in silence and build up an antipathy for the interrupter.
Okay, I will admit that appropriate interruptions may be necessary. We all know the affable long-winded types who love to hear themselves yak, yak, yak, unable to know when it’s time to “zip the lips.” They’re prime candidates for interruptions; respectful ones, I must add.
Others warranting interruptions are those who are verbally abusive – your garden-variety screamers and cussers (think “F bomb Frankie” or “Cussing Cathy” here).
Now for a bit of “off the hook letting,” I’m not talking about the occasional cutoff that is, at worst, mildly annoying. We’ve all encountered people who do that. And we have done it ourselves. Nor am I talking about those “affirming interruptions” (“Right,” “Uh huh,” “Good,” “Amen”) with head nods to show we support what someone is saying. In fact, a dearth of affirming interruptions may have the opposite micro effect – the speaker losing confidence and focus.
Let’s now peer into the complex mind of “chronic interrupters”, the ones who make a career of butting in. Their verbal blasts can spring up in meetings, during one-on-one conversations, over the dinner table, in social media… from anywhere. Their “interruption guns” are always cocked, ready to fire. Existing conversations, thoughtful pauses and mid-sentences are where they take aim. And if you pause, even for a split second, they’ll pounce and inject themselves into the conversation.
Now the irony is that interrupters don’t like being interrupted. Ever notice that? They’ll cringe, clench their teeth and roll their eyes if you interrupt them. And if you dare to interrupt them … touché … they will turn around and interrupt you right back. Their blind obsession with getting in a word is a sight to behold.
To wit, recall the recent debates. What an exhibition. The scenes conjured up an image of two boxers bobbing and weaving; sweat and spit flying everywhere, each looking for an opening to deliver the verbal knockout punch while million sat glued to the screen with an occasional ooh and aah.
So why do interrupters interrupt? The answer isn’t that easy. But as a “recovering interrupter,” I can tell you that thoughts race through our minds at breakneck speeds. And yes, some of us suffer from attention deficit disorder. And others, eh, not yours truly of course, just seem to crave attention and being in the limelight. Then there is the fear that we may miss the moment – a chance to “correct” – if we don’t interject. Long-winded types drive us into an eye rolling delirium.
Interrupting is so ingrained that we don’t even know that we’re doing it. So it is important to know that your local interrupter may be unaware of the behavior. A firm (Kamala Harris-like) “Excuse me, Terry, but I wasn’t finished yet,” may be all that it takes.
And be patient. Interrupters may not hear you the first few times. Avoid eye contact with the verbal invader since eye contact provides them an opening to interrupt. And if you are an observer of someone being interrupted, chime in with, “Wait, excuse me Terry but I’m interested in hearing the rest of Tim’s thoughts.”
As for interrupters out there, put a lid on it. If you are not part of a conversation, resist barging in unless invited. So calm down. Pinch yourself. Take your medication. If you are present when someone’s talking, let them finish. This is not a footrace. Plus, understand that in some cultures “turn taking” and “thoughtful pauses” are the preferred protocol and f you interrupt you could offend. And understand that interrupting “slow talkers” or those with drawn out accents could also offend.
Oh, before I go, if someone hears about an “interrupters vaccine” being developed, let me know. I want to be first on the list to give it a try.
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org