Excuse me for interrupting your interruption

When I was recently at my older sister’s house, we were talking over a semi-serious issue during lunch; however, a couple of the young grandchildren she watches kept bursting in on our conversation until my sister silenced them by holding up in their faces a hand that doubled as a stop sign.

“Hey, did you notice we were already in the middle of talking when you ran up and interrupted our conversation?” she asked. I liked how she approached the social infraction, giving them the benefit of the doubt, while simultaneously making it clear their behavior was not acceptable. The pair instantly looked down at their feet in embarrassment and said, “We’re sorry.”

If only the same response occurred with adult interruptions. But alas, it rarely does, except on PBS programs set in European countries, where much of the dialogue is decidedly more formal and etiquette-based than the daily stuff we practice here in the good old U.S. of A. That’s why I’m very direct in my response to being interrupted, “Excuse me for interrupting your interruption of me, but as I was saying …”

Kristy Smith

Kristy Smith

Interrupting is annoying and rarely called for, except in cases where someone is completely hogging the conversation and depriving everyone else from participating. A well-timed interruption may be the only way of creating an opening for getting a word in edgewise.

Or perhaps an interruption is called for in the event the person with whom I am walking and talking suddenly begins walking out in front of a moving vehicle. I would not hesitate to interrupt with a sharp “Watch out” or “Get back”, perhaps accompanied by body language, such as flinging out a restraining arm, or grabbing the person by his/her arm and pulling him/her backward and out of harm’s way.

That kind of interruption is timely and welcome, in addition to being in the minority. They sometimes award medals for such conduct. But if you’re wondering why you’ve never seen someone walking around wearing one on his/her chest, it’s because people are much more effective at and guilty of interrupting in a self-serving manner, often to take control of “the floor” — that imaginary piece of real estate you get to dominate, tax-free, following conversationally conquering someone else via interruptions.

People also interrupt for other, not-entirely-draconian reasons, which include being unable to contain their excitement, feeling chronically unheard, coming from a culture where interrupting is the norm, talking compulsively or being unaware they are interrupting. Still, it’s frustrating.

The only thing worse than being interrupted is when, following an interruption, both parties awkwardly try and regroup, by politely saying to one another, “You go ahead,” followed by “No, YOU go ahead.” And the volley continues ad nauseam — the verbal equivalent of the accommodating driver indecision that holds up traffic at four-way stops.

So what we really need is a verbal roundabout to alleviate the pressure and improve the flow of conversation, while also averting accidents. Did I just say that?!

On a side note, there appears to be gender differences involved in the interpretation of interruptions. According to a May 18, 2018, article by Alex Shashkevich at theguardian.com, “Why do people interrupt? It depends upon who you’re talking to,” Stanford University researcher Katherine Hilton discovered that men listening to audio of people of both genders interrupting another speaker rated the female interrupters as more rude, less friendly and less intelligent than the male interrupters.

Even though that characterization may not be fair, it’s good to know it exists, especially in the workplace and in the initial stages of any developing relationship. Best to be mindful of how you insert yourself into a conversation, as to not be written off as abrupt, unfriendly and/or stupid.

That’s not all. Writing for verywellmind.com (March 29, 2023) “Understanding the Psychology of Interrupting: How to Deal With Chronic Interrupters” author Sherri Gordon cites a George Washington University study that found men interrupted women 33% more often than they interrupted other men.

No wonder I preface being interrupted with, “Excuse me for interrupting your interruption of me …” If you can’t avoid being female, at least be polite, friendly and intelligent in handling the accompanying interruptions.

Kristy Smith’s Different Drum humor columns are archived at her blog: diffdrum.wordpress.com.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: A Different Drum: Excuse me for interrupting your interruption

Leave a Comment