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Ways to Learn Conversation Skills

Talk, Interrupted


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		  Talk, Interrupted  

 A subscriber writes:   

"One of my pet peeves is when I'm speaking to someone and they constantly end my sentences for me without allowing me to complete the sentence myself. I guess that they want me to talk faster converse to one of your earlier topics on "talking slowly". I don't feel isolated because I watch them do it to everybody to whom they are speaking. (listening). I'd be interested in reading your comments on this topic. Is this a common trait?"   

Common trait? Unfortunately, yes. Not necessarily completing the speaker's sentences, but certainly interrupting the flow before the speaker has finished. Sentence-completers? Maybe 5-10%. Interrupters? Closer to 40 to 50%. So I have observed.   

These habits, like others, are performed largely out of awareness, I believe. People interrupt because they are overeager and impatient, or because they are not listening and only waiting for an opportunity to seize their turn. Good listeners rarely interrupt before you've finished with your thought.   

At one time when I was a university professor, I had a chairman with an annoying habit of finishing my sentences. He was a gifted performer with a theater, radio, and television background who "listened with his lips" to anyone's words. His gifts with language actually became an nuisance habit as he automatically and unconsciously filled in another's words during any pause. As a result, his colleagues tended to avoid him rather than deal with this irritating experience.   

If you watch children, you'll see them interrupting often. They often operate in a "See me!" mode and want more to be recognized themselves than they want to understand one another. Similarly, contentious political programs like CrossFire on CNN exhibit frequent examples of interruption and overtalk (when two or more people are speaking - even yelling - at once.) Skilled talk-show guests must have a repertory of response phrases to deal with these interruptions (such as "May I please finish?"). Less experienced guests quickly become overwhelmed.   

What can you do about being constantly interrupted?   

A "soft" approach would be to be an exceptionally good listener to the interrupting person. This may (no guarantee) have the effect of reducing their concern of not being listened to and thus interrupting to "have their say." Good listening is sometimes reciprocated.   

A more explicit approach is to give the other person immediate feedback, such as "Please let me finish." Or pattern feedback, such as "Often when we talk, you interrupt me before I've finished. Please don't do that." Hearing this, an interrupter may become a bit defensive but will usually reduce the interrupting when their habit is brought to their attention.   

An exception exists when one party to a conversation rambles on long-windedly, an affliction I sometimes call "logorrhea," or running off at the mouth. If we don't give our partners a chance to respond or initiate, they will have to interrupt us in order to talk.  


Loren Ekroth 2012, All rights reserved.

Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life.

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