Monday, July 25, 2011

Interruption the bane of conversation

My daughter was discussing with me one day some matter of importance when her son of seven years interrupted her calling “Mom, mom, listen to me.” She did not pay attention to him and continued talking to me. His interruptions became persistent and louder. She lost her cool and shouted at him angrily “How many times have I told you not to interrupt me when I am talking to someone and that it is bad manners to butt in without saying excuse me.? Have I not told you to wait for some time and talk when there is a pause unless the matter was extremely urgent?” When I counseled her patience citing the boy is young, she said that he is not correcting himself despite her repeated admonitions. He exhibits impatience if his interruption is not acknowledged immediately

It was then I thought to myself how many of us, grown up individuals, interrupt others in the middle even as they are talking. Many of us not only break into the conversation of two people like a bull in china shop but also interrupt the other person with whom we are conversing in the middle of his talk. We do not have the patience to allow the other person to complete his say and instead we finish his sentences. The moment we hear the first two sentences, we think we know the drift and assume ourselves what he/she wished to say and proceed to give our(mostly) rebuttals or our views. We would have even thought out our sentences even while the other person was speaking paying little attention to what was being said.

Conversation, we fail to realize, is a two way street. It is not a race to determine who speaks the most. Interrupting a person who is speaking is bad decorum. It is the characteristic of only very young children to keep talking without anyone listening. They keep talking simultaneously or by turns with no real conversation taking place. Talking is easier than listening. Listening calls for some effort.

I have seen in innumerable conferences people giving scant attention to the speaker(s) but keep writing notes on what they wished to say when their turn comes. Some keep rising to ask questions without allowing the speaker to conclude. How can they understand or answer the points spoken by the other speakers if they do not hear fully but engage themselves in other pursuits like making notes, whispering to the adjacent person, yawning or sleeping. These are much worse than interrupting as they indicate to the speaker that he is not wanted. They are also apt to miss the important observations made and may also lose the opportunity to contest the points if wrongly made when their turn comes. Most importantly they learn nothing new. When they speak, very often they talk upon the points already covered.

There are many dimensions to listening skill. We have only examined the interruption aspect of it. This listening skill is very essential for succeeding in life and for making ourselves acceptable in social and business circles. To put it in another way, paying undivided attention to what is being said and understanding the message conveyed fully is a vital component of good conversation or interaction. Mark Twain put it with his inimitable sarcasm that “There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you're busy interrupting. “


  1. It happens everywhere, people seldom listen, they only hear. It is very identical to 'see' and 'look at'.
    That is the reason for all the mis-communication. You imbibe only when you listen!

  2. Very true. Every one wants to talk, no one wants to listen:( Many think communication is a one way process...

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  4. I am listening...
    Liked the post.

  5. Very good analysis. I have seen many people making notes, not 'taking' notes while the speaker speaks on the stage.They are bothered about their own speech! Actually, as you said if they listen to the others' speech, this person's speech might be more interesting!

    Even at this age, I sometimes make this mistake of interrupting others when they speak and stop mid-sentence after remembering the mistake! Correcting oneself is a life long process, I think!

    Listening skill is an in-born skill, I think!

    Enjoyed reading this post!

  6. It keeps happening most of the time with married people also..One starts the conversation, other picks up bits and pieces and misunderstands.. Such silly tiffs can endup in huge breakups too.. as you say, its a 2 way road

  7. Good one.Very true. I must correct myself,at times I am proned.
    I noticed a lot of westerners are very patient in listening ,answering and taliking.
    They wait patiently till the person finishes his talk.

  8. I am reminded of the famous saying,"While it is for the mediocrity to talk it is for the genius to observe". It takes a lot of self discipline to learn to listen.

  9. Good points in this piece, thanks. I have an acquaintance who interrupts constantly. Even when I say "please, PLEASE let me finish" she keeps on talking. At times, I will not give up and keep talking and then we will both be talking at the same time for sometimes 10-15 seconds. She will finally stop, but then she has no idea what it is that I just told her. She will never be a friend, but I will continue to be a good neighbor. I think this goes beyond bad habits and might be a symptom of some pathology.