October 6, 2016

Something I'm reading this morning not just because of all the talk about Tim Kaine's interrupting, but because interrupting is a big subject with me.

"5 Ways to Stop Yourself From Interrupting People," a column by Rhonda Scharf.

I interrupt a lot and get criticized for doing it, but I'm also intensely critical of the way some people interrupt me, even though I facilitate most interruptions by shutting up immediately — like a lawyer in front of judge — and letting the other person speak without the burden of feeling that they have frustrated or annoyed me at all.

I like back-and-forth conversation and hate to get stuck in situations where one person is holding forth and relying on a privilege to complete long sentences and stringing them one after another, as if desperate to fend off the relationship he could have if only he'd throw it over to me for a change.

My favorite of Scharf's suggestions is:
Reward yourself. Count how many times a day you interrupt others. Set a goal in the morning along the lines of: "If I interrupt others less than 10 times today, I will stop at Starbucks on the way home from work." Continue to lower the goal daily until you can get to the point where you are not interrupting anyone.
What a dreary existence! I'm glad Scharf isn't here in person saying that or my outburst would be interrupting. My tip for avoiding interruption is: Avoid in-person interaction with boring people. Read. And blog. Blogging is kind of all about taking in the words of others until you feel motivated to interrupt.

ADDED: What got me started on the idea for this post was an idle random click back into this blog's archive, where I happened up a February 9, 2013 post in the old Gatsby project. The sentence to be discussed there was:
"Sometimes she and Miss Baker talked at once, unobtrusively and with a bantering inconsequence that was never quite chatter, that was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire."
In the comments CWJ said:
I have often noticed how women can talk over each other but be completely mutually understood. Not a man thing in my experience. That a man would not just notice this but incorporate it into this sentence is simply great.

55 comments:

Henry said...

Cripes that's a dreary list.

How about this: Only interrupt after you stand up straight and floss your teeth.

Paddy O said...

My family all interrupt each other, it's a constant interplay. But I realize how rude it can seem and indeed an expression of power (even when I'm not the one with power). I've been trying to be conscious of my tendency to interrupt. I'm not generally being dismissive, it usually happens when I get excited about the topic.

Some people like the talent show style of conversation. Everyone gets a chance on the stage, then the next act. I like ballet, where people are engaged at the same time. But while a talent show occasionally is long-winded if it has extended past its worth, a ballet can be a disaster if the participants aren't used to dancing together.

Interrupting, of course, is absolutely a key skill in classroom management. There's always those students who try to monopolize the discussion by saying whatever they might know or students who learn by talking things out, so end up trying to take a class on a magic journey of discovery in a form of a question or answer.

Paddy O said...

Interestingly enough, I read the first half of this post, wrote my comment, and then read the second half. I interrupted. No starbucks for me if this keeps up.

PB said...

Interrupting is merely a crowd shouting someone down off podium writ small.

Sebastian said...

"Sometimes she and Miss Baker talked at once, unobtrusively" Another way to handle boring people: just keep talking.

Ann Althouse said...

"Interrupting, of course, is absolutely a key skill in classroom management. There's always those students who try to monopolize the discussion by saying whatever they might know or students who learn by talking things out, so end up trying to take a class on a magic journey of discovery in a form of a question or answer."

The teacher is forced to interrupt on behalf of the other students. It's a duty. We are the unsung heroes of interrupting.

Leslie Graves said...

Instead of thinking, as I used to do, of interruptions as being unequivocally bad and annoying, this post makes me think that interruptions exist on a continuum where the poles are "interruptions that actively and benevolently facilitate a good conversation or connection with the person with whom you are speaking" versus toxic interruptions.

Ann Althouse said...

My central point here is that there is good interrupting and bad interrupting. It shouldn't even be the same word.

As a teacher interrupting students, you're not just cutting them off, you're helping them be better by focusing them on the important part of what they are saying and sharpening them up as they go along.

Gusty Winds said...

Interrupting has two purposes:

1) Do jump in and get your point across
2) To not let another person finish their point, perhaps because it is valid and you don't want it heard.

Tim Kaine was following a dictated strategy to implement #2.

Ann Althouse said...

@Leslie Yes (and I wrote my 8:13 comment before reading what you said).

tcrosse said...

A more annoying subset of interrupting is to complete other peoples' sentences for them. The only defense is for the interruptee to complete the sentence differently, even if the interrupter got it right.

Ann Althouse said...

"@Leslie Yes (and I wrote my 8:13 comment before reading what you said)."

Which shows how by reading and writing, the problem of interrupting is transcended.

Henry said...

I have often noticed how women can talk over each other but be completely mutually understood. Not a man thing in my experience. That a man would not just notice this but incorporate it into this sentence is simply great.

There was an old science fiction story that set up the premise that we finally contact aliens, but there is a huge latency in the communication channel. The aliens are out beyond Pluto or something. Finally the lead scientist's mother tells him, just both talk at once and you'll communicate just fine.

* * *

I've also found this happening in text messaging. A message thread might have more than one topic. Say you're complaining about a lousy day at work and trying to figure out plans for later at the same time. So you send a message on topic one while receiving a reply on topic two. The topics automatically start alternating in the same thread.


Bob Ellison said...

Paddy O, your talent show v. ballet metaphor is excellent.

I try, but fail, to avoid interrupting. Here's another metaphor: in tennis, don't rush the net if you suspect your opponent is gonna drift an easy lob back at you. I once told my tennis opponent, Fu-Manchu-style, "Let the chicken cut its own throat." Good imagery, no?

rhhardin said...

Normal conversation isn't in sentences. It's all false starts and fillers. Interruptions are a normal part of the process.

If you feel you're being interrupted, perhaps you are holding forth instead of conversing.

Bob Ellison said...

"Which shows how by reading and writing, the problem of interrupting is transcended."

You're off-point. Let's get back to Tim Kaine. Focus!

wild chicken said...

My husband likes to monologue. Everything I say is an interruption. "...and so anyway...". In fact the worst chatterboxes I've known were old men. They go on and on.

I am better about not interrupting, but have forgotten how to converse with company.

rhhardin said...

Interrupting is part of the rape culture.

EDH said...

It's also important to distinguish interjection from interruption.

A skilled interjection is a short burst that does not interrupt the first person's train of thought or delivery, done best when filling in a natural pause and is done before the other speaker can react.

It marks a point of disagreement or, when done adroitly, rebuts and corrects the first speaker.

The limiting factor is the justifiability to frequency ratio.

Brando said...

People who complain too much about being interrupted are usually the same people who don't let anyone else get a word in edgewise.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Interrupting (in a way where you talk over someone else) is saying: "l've decided that what you're in the middle of saying is less important than what I have to say." That's why what Kaine kept doing was so rude. It's an unearned, unwarranted assertion of superiority over others. This is not worth defending.

You've complained when I deleted a post in which you had left a comment because this prevented your comment from staying up permanently, though your comment was visible temporarily. Now you're defending interrupting in conversation, which prevents the other person from being heard even temporarily.

Paddy O said...

I like the tennis image too. That's been a big part of my attempt at discipline, to let the other person get out their main point. But sometimes they're bouncing the ball on their racket and the game has come to a standstill. We need some kind of "delay of conversation" signal.

tim in vermont said...

I have a friend, no surprise he is all in for Hillary, who is afraid to pause, swear to God. His brother is far worse on account of his brother is smarter, and so has more complex thoughts to lay out in excruciating detail, but the stupid brother, he is bad enough. Why is he still my friend, you ask? Well, he might not be before this election is over.

Paddy O said...

To be honest, I don't generally mind being interrupted, so it's not always rude when I do it, not intentionally so. But, I have mostly high self-confidence, so if I don't feel like being interrupted I just keep talking.

That's always an awkward standoff, the non-accepted interruption. It's like two cars driving at each other on a one lane road. Who is going to stop talking first? Who is going to assert their power? Who is going to choose to let their thought go off the side of the road? Usually it resolves quickly, but sometimes it can go on for complete sentences. Everyone else panics.

MadisonMan said...

It's interesting to be in meetings in my discipline, which is mostly male, and see any woman try to shed their tendency to wait to interrupt. I'll just start talking and others will stop, whereas the few women (some of them, but not all) who are typically in the meeting wait for a natural pause in the discussion before they start -- and sometimes the pause never happens. When I'm running the meeting, I will ask them if they have something to say, 'cause their body english tells me they do. If I'm not running the meeting, they're on their own.

Outside of work, I run into people who I swear are deathly afraid of silence. It's hard to interrupt them, but I will, knowing that as soon as no one says anything for about 1 millisecond they'll be back talking.

Paddy O said...

A good distinction is understanding the purpose of a given conversation. Sometimes its informational (like a classroom), sometimes they're relational, sometimes it's almost purely about power and control (like debates). Different etiquette for different purposes.

Bob Ellison said...

I have to interject here that I've already thought all of the issues through and written about them repeatedly (search for them before you respond, please). Obviously you haven't been paying attention and are wandering astray. We were talking about Tim Kaine.

Bob Ellison said...

Paddy O, I think of conversation as purposefully wandering. You're chatting about dogs with one or more people, and suddenly someone says "reminds me of my car", and if the tangent has merit, you gotta let the dogs loose.

Discussion requires a porpoise, and outside the classroom or similar settings, with a moderator of some kind in charge, discussion tends not to work with more than two people or without mutual respect for the rules of engagement.

Brando said...

It would be a really neat feature of this blog if one commenter could actually interject their own comment in the middle of another person's comment. It'd look like this:

"I think the problem with climate change is that too many people are denying the simple fact--" "Can it, swampy!"

Paddy O said...

Tim Kaine reminds me of a guy I once knew in high school. He had a blue Volkswagen Bus, or was it green? Anyway, there was this time that he came to school mad and no one could get a word in edgewise. It turns out... what was that? Oh, sorry my 4 year old asked for a box so she could make a fort in the living room. Be right back...

Ann Althouse said...

Maybe people are differently abled with respect to interruption. I'm thinking of the way people with Asperger's syndrome have trouble reading the emotions of someone they are talking to.

It could be that some people easily understand the different kinds of interruptions and accept the good ones and resist the repressive ones, but to other people all interruptions seem like the same thing, and they continually experience frustration and unhappiness if there isn't a flat etiquette rule against interruptions.

Those of us who want to use and benefit from the good sort of interruptions might need to become more aware of this difference. But it makes me want to withdraw from interactions in mixed company. To get along you have to submit to a lot of tedium. I'd rather handle the business in writing. I don't want to spend my time in such a repressive, inert environment.

Of course, I could also be blind and self-serving. My interruptions are the good kind. I want to make this conversation more fun and fast-moving for everybody. But I'm aware of that potential blindness. We're all differently abled. I'm very good at blogging... mainly because anyone who doesn't like this is instantly free to look away... or to jump in and give me hell.

Meade said...

Excuse me. Excuse. Imma let you finish but I prefer reservatus to interruptus. That's all I wanted to say. I yield back the balance of my time.

Bob Ellison said...

You just don't get it, do you?

rhhardin said...

No justice no peach.

rhhardin said...

Cooperative interruption would be corruption.

The rupt culture.

rhhardin said...

Rupt in history: abrupt, bankrupt, corrupt, disrupt, erupt, interrupt, irruption, rupture.

Paddy O said...

Althouse, this article is making the rounds around my academic connections, I'd be curious to hear thoughts from your vantage point: The 40-year-old burnout: Why I gave up tenure for a yet-to-be-determined career

rhhardin said...

Maybe people are differently abled with respect to interruption.

The interruption cripples.

James Pawlak said...

His discourtesy = his dishonesty.

Ann Althouse said...

"But it makes me want to withdraw from interactions in mixed company."

"mixed company" isn't really the right expression for what I'm trying to say. I don't mean simply both sexes are there. I mean people with different conversational abilities and preferences.

Ann Althouse said...

"Althouse, this article is making the rounds around my academic connections, I'd be curious to hear thoughts from your vantage point: The 40-year-old burnout: Why I gave up tenure for a yet-to-be-determined career."

Thanks!

Very interested in that.

rhhardin said...

For the plight of academic research, see the chapter "Administrative Encirclement" in John Gall's _Systemantics._

The guys originally brought in to order pencils and pads take over the institution.

Ann Althouse said...

"For the plight of academic research, see the chapter "Administrative Encirclement" in John Gall's _Systemantics._ The guys originally brought in to order pencils and pads take over the institution."

That is exactly what I've been thinking about something I won't specify here.

Thanks for pointing me to something serious going into it.

rhhardin said...

John Gall's _Systemantics_ originally a small book around 1975 has gone through several successively larger editions; I think the original published by somebody like Ann Arbor Press is the best, but the good chapters are likely to remain unaltered.

As a book it suffers from inability to decide whether it's another _Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown_ or a funny but truth-to-power with insights essay about why everything isn't working very well.

You can use almost anything in it every day.

Paddy O said...


"Very interested in that."

Great! A useful interruption then!

Yancey Ward said...

Well, a debate isn't like a conversation, or it shouldn't be. I am sympathetic to the idea you want to cut off a filibusterer in a normal conversation, but a debate should be structured to do that explicitly already, so you don't have to feel like you need to interrupt.

Meade said...

"Rupt in history: abrupt, bankrupt, corrupt, disrupt, erupt, interrupt, irruption, rupture."

Clinton vs Trump — Corruption vs Disruption

khesanh0802 said...

Ann; I am surprised you are an interrupter. Doesn't the law school use the Socratic method? Seems to me that doing that for awhile would give one all the experience they need in how to behave in a discussion. Certainly in my deep dark past at HBS we were clear that we did not interrupt our classmates regardless of how stupid we felt their comments might be.

mikee said...

Best joke ever:

Knock, knock!
Who's there?
Interrupting cow.
Interrupting c.....
MOOOOOO!

mikee said...

Best joke ever:

Knock, knock!
Who's there?
Interrupting cow.
Interrupting c.....
MOOOOOO!

Paddy O said...

mikee, my four year old learned that one and it's definitely her favorite joke.

I hear it a lot.

Char Char Binks said...

Gusty Winds said...

"2) To not let another person finish their point, perhaps because it is valid and you don't want it heard.

Tim Kaine was following a dictated strategy to implement #2."

That's exactly what Al Roker was doing to Billy Bush re Ryan Lochte, shouting him down to set the White Privilege Narrative in motion.

Sorry, I feel very strongly about this.

Clark said...

If I am in a conversation with someone, the following seem to me to be situations in which it makes sense for me to interrupt:

1. My interlocutor deviates from the agreed range of the conversation (that agreement can be explicit or implicit, and it might change as the conversation proceeds).

2. My interlocutor asserts something as a step in an argument that I cannot go along with, making continuing the conversation pointless until we work out the disputed assertion. Of course my interlocutor might respond “just go along with me for a moment you’ll see where I am going” and I might agree to that. If steps 3 through 10 of an argument depend on the truth of 2, and if 2 appears to me to be demonstrably false, why should I listen to my interlocutor (why would my interlocutor want to) plow through steps 3 through 10?

openidname said...

"My tip for avoiding interruption is: Avoid in-person interaction with boring people."

Wow. Talk about blaming the victim. What a disavowal of any need or ability to control yourself! Plus, it assumes that a person who is "boring" during your impatient and self-limited interaction with him or her is necessarily boring about all topics at all times under all circumstances. Is this really Christian?

Jon Ericson said...

Are you for real?