Conversation is supposed to be a back and forth between two or more people. One person finishes their sentence, then another person provides their own input. When they finish up what they’re saying, then the other person responds. There should be a clear break between each person. Just like in a novel how you would have paragraph breaks between bits of dialogue, so too in real life you let the other person take a breath to show the end of their thought.
BUT THAT’S NOT HOW PEOPLE REALLY TALK.
IN REAL LIFE PEOPLE CONSTANTLY INTERRUPT AND RARELY LET YOU FINISH ONE SINGLE THOUGHT.
If I had to write down a real life conversation the way they often feel then it would look like this:
The longer it goes, the more convoluted it becomes and the first person never actually gets to finish their story. It’s okay to move from topic to topic and sometimes you don’t get to say every little thing you want to say. BUT the more conversations I have with people, even close friends, the more I notice how much we interrupt each other.
There are two kinds of people in conversations when interrupting starts happening:
- The okay-I’ll-shut-up person.
This person will immediately, or nearly immediately stop talking when someone interrupts them. They usually feel uncomfortable when more than one person is trying to talk and will defer to the other. This can be in an effort to not offend the other person or it can be to keep the situation from escalating since you never know how someone will react if you call them out on interruptions.
2. The I-am-the-dominant-conversationalist-here-shut-up-you-peasant person.
This person will keep talking if interrupted. It’s usually subtle because the other person is pretty much ALWAYS the shut-up person. This dominant is often the interrupter too because whatever pops into their head is actually much more important than whatever the shut-up person has to say.
These aren’t hard and fast rules. During any one conversation you can switch back and forth between shut-up and dominant. I’ve been both people and you have probably been both people too. AND BOTH PEOPLE ARE ANNOYING IN THEIR OWN SPECIAL WAYS.
Shut-up people are annoying because they’re like a quiet little mouse in conversation who never gets a word in edge-wise and they’re ALWAYS apologizing for existing. There’s nothing wrong with being quiet or letting someone else lead a conversation but STOP APOLOGIZING WHEN YOU’RE NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG. The dominant-conversationalist interrupted you and that isn’t your fault. You can talk over them. (Which, coincidentally, switches your role if the dominant-conversationalist actually shuts up.)
Dominant-conversationalist people are annoying because, well, I’d say you can figure it out. THEY INTERRUPT. CONSTANTLY.
Do me a favor and the next conversation you have, doesn’t matter who you’re talking to, just pay attention to yourself. LISTEN to the other person. Every time this other person speaks, keep your mouth shut. And then keep keeping your mouth shut. Seriously. Just take a conversation to become aware of what role you seem to play. If something pops into your head and you want to say it in the middle of someone else talking then, here’s a novel idea, DON’T. JUST KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT UNTIL IT’S YOUR TURN.
Remember in grade school when you had to raise your hand to give input and sometimes the teacher wouldn’t notice you and they would just move on through the lesson so your once-fantastic comment is now completely irrelevant and you had to slowly put your hand down, accepting that you would never get to share your wonderfully perfect comment, looking around awkwardly at your classmates who saw the whole embarrassing thing and are now offering wry smiles and sympathetic looks? That’s still the feeling when everyone else in the conversation moves on before you get to share your thoughts.
Honestly, that feels like the reason everyone interrupts each other. Because they’re afraid that they might not get to share something at the right moment if they don’t blurt it out as soon as it pops into their head. You know what, GET OVER IT. This isn’t grade school. I’m talking to adults here (I can’t BELIEVE I have to say this to ADULTS). You’re being rude. You’re telling the person being interrupted that YOUR input is more important than whatever they’re saying. You’re making them feel THE EXACT FEELING THAT YOU YOURSELF ARE TRYING TO AVOID.
I have preferred written communication for a long time and my distaste for those who constantly interrupt has definitely influenced that. See, you can’t interrupt this blog post. You can post comments (which I always appreciate!) but you can’t physically stop me to insert your own feelings/thoughts/comments into mine. Love it. It’s so freeing to be able to talk without anyone to stop my story for no other reason than a thing popped into their head.
Basic manners dictate you allow a person to finish what they’re saying. SO DO IT. BE POLITE. Have basic human decency in everyday conversation. It’s not that hard.