Interrupting Conversation

talkingYou probably have experienced the person that goes on and on and you just can’t get a word in edgewise.  It’s so frustrating to talk to this conversation hog, even though you may find something of interesting in what they are saying, because they go on and on and on…  The rules of polite conversation dictate that you allow others to have a turn speaking.  But some people don’t seem to know the rules, so the reaction by others is to either avoid their company or to interrupt them whenever possible.

A critical communication skill is getting our fair share of turns in a conversation.  Without this skill, a person can be capable and intelligent, but will remain in the lower ranks of their profession because they can’t be counted on to speak up when needed.   If they clam up in silence when interrupted or sit out a conversation with a conversation hog, they are doomed professionally.  So this skill is a must have.

Or maybe you are that person.  Do you find that you are interrupted often before you have a chance to finish your story?  That you pause for a breath, and someone jumps in to take a turn when you weren’t through speaking and weren’t quite ready to give up your turn?

The source of this problem is that person who is constantly interrupted is giving off false signals of being through talking and ready to yield the floor.  At this point, others naturally jump in, thinking the turn taking was turned over when it wasn’t intended to be.  A good example is Margaret Thatcher who was forever being interrupted.  This is a common problem, even for some high status people.

Language is like a formal dance – one person leads, takes a swing around the floor, then another person politely cuts in, with the permission of the first person – a tap, a nod, an agreement that their turn is over for now.  Only in conversation, this exchange is done with a pause, a drop in tone on the last word, and eye contact to the next speaker.  Sometimes there is even a literal handoff, a hand gesture to the next in line to speak, or a verbal, “Jack?”

To keep from being interrupted, refrain from giving off false signals and don’t do the things that signal you are ready to give up the floor.  Instead pause for breath in the middle of a sentence, maintain or raise your tone before pausing, and don’t allow eye contact during the pause.  Then when ready, give the proper signals and end your turn speaking politely.

As for interrupting a conversation hog, it’s hard to teach the traffic rules to someone who isn’t aware that they need a lesson.  So let them fend for themselves and move on – just make sure that you aren’t the one being the conversation hog and not allowing others their fair share of conversation turns.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  The rules of the conversation road require skills to manage the intersections.  The ability to get a turn to speak and to maintain it for as long as is reasonable is high on the list.  Introducing a topic to discuss and then supporting and maintaining the conversation is next.  Then is the ability to pass the conversational turn over to another.  Spotting signals that you are next to speak is important.  As is the ability to stop people who blatantly interfere with the process.  These abilities make up the repertoire of a skillful conversationalist.

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