“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Evelyn Beatrice Hall, from the biography “The Friends of Voltaire”
It seems like a no-brainer, but there really is very little conversation around interruption and the effects it has. A simple Google search gives a few blogs and articles written ten or twenty years ago—nothing current, no rants, no research, no current conversation. A previous blog of mine published a year ago, Indigenous Communication, begins the dialog, and here in this blog I’m offering some thoughts on the effects of interruption.
Interruption is a tool used by extroverts to control and dominate conversations. Extroverts don’t necessarily interrupt consciously—it’s usually an automatic impulse. It’s just what so many people do unaware of the effects it has.
- Blocks the flow of creativity because it only allows for the creative to move in one direction.
- Is overpowering, because it runs right over introverts and makes them want to refrain from saying anything.
- Disrupts, because if a person speaks more slowly than another they will never get their point across.
- Breaks up the thread of communication because each interruption requires the conveyor of a thought to retrace her tracks before picking up where she left off, and many times the thread is lost or its clarity is diminished.
- Is inefficient, because instead of allowing a person to speak their thought, idea, or point of view to completion they have to start and stop several times. The interrupter many times interrupts out of impatience, and yet their interruptions prolong conversations.
- Is belittling, because those being interrupted tend to feel as though what they have to say is not important.
- Is frantic, because for those who feel they have something important to say will tend to quicken their pace in order to cut in and get their point across.
I say all these things as a former habitual interrupter. You could even say I’m a recovering interrupter, to use twelve-step terminology. I’m not perfect, but I have learned through carefully observing myself, as both the interrupter and the interrupted, how I do not want to communicate.
When we have people in our society or our community who are considered to be elders with wisdom, who also interrupt, we are clearly missing something in our collective dialog in that it’s not even on our radar screen.
Traditional indigenous societies have a different way of communicating. It’s slow. It’s respectful. The emphasis is on listening, and the listening is more about the flow of energy in the conversation than the words necessarily. Ideas are expressed fully and creativity flows like a gentle stream. The teaching of this way of communicating comes from the elders, because they have spent a lifetime developing it.
The only draw back is that this way of gentle communication requires that we slow down. It means we must practice patience and listening. It means we must care enough to listen at least as hard as we speak, if not more.
So let’s start the conversation rolling, let’s talk about interruption, and be cautious not to interrupt while we talk about it. Let’s also be gentle with ourselves and others when we interrupt. Let’s remind each other gently and compassionately, so that we may hone our skill of non-interruption.