As humans, we have this tendency to always be thinking about ourselves. We listen with half our brain when our friends are talking, but the other half is already forming what we’re going to say in response. Then we take what our friend said and expand on it without giving her the chance to finish her thought, heroically thinking we’re adding to the value of the conversation. In reality, we’re frustrating everyone around us.
Epictetus’s saying, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak,” is rarely practiced. Interrupting and over-sharing are tricky bad habits, because sometimes they go unidentified for years. They can sneakily attack a relationship without either party being able to identify what’s causing the tension. Someone who is constantly interrupted feels unappreciated, but might not know exactly why. In fact, if you haven’t thought about this almost-forgotten manner and you’re reading this blog post, I bet you’ll be aware of and annoyed by the presence of interrupting at least three more times by the end of the day. It’s happening constantly. When we’re aware of it, we’re more likely to notice it, and hopefully able to prevent it.
This pet peeve of mine is getting stronger and stronger. As I’m writing this, I thinking of all the people who’ve interrupted me or someone I care about. I notice this selfish flaw in many people, very quickly, but I know I still don’t always notice it in myself (yet another reminder of my addiction to selfishness).
But you know what I always do notice? People who don’t interrupt. There are a couple people in my life who are so aware of this frustration, their efforts to prevent it are noticed by everyone. One of my coworkers comes to mind quickly. In a meeting he might have an idea about something another coworker is sharing. He will think the other coworker is finished sharing and move to add his thought. Then the other person will continue talking and you know what this non-interrupting coworker says? “Oops I’m sorry, keep going,” immediately giving the floor back to the other person to finish his or her thought. I remember the first time this happened to me with this coworker and I recall being taken aback by the interaction. This is just not common anymore. So uncommon in fact, it truly surprised me when decent manners were used.
Interrupting is frustrating. You think you have something valuable to share, but when you notice someone interrupting, you feel rushed for the rest of the conversation to make your point or risk leaving your thoughts floating in your head, unheard. Then you become defensive and start talking over the other person, or what I often do, withdrawal from the conversation altogether. If they aren’t going to be polite and listen to what I have to say, then why bother saying it. This is a very selfish response. What I’m subconsciously saying is, “if you don’t treat me the way I deserve to be treated then I’m going to treat you poorly until you realize your mistake and correct it.” As if to say, “I’m perfect and you’re not, so as soon as you can become perfect, we can try this again.”
As a Christian, I’m on pretty high-alert for phrases like, “what I deserve.” See, in reality, I deserve death. I’ve sinned, I’ve fallen short of God’s standards for perfect living (spoiler alert, so have you) and therefore, by God’s standards, I technically deserve death. However, in God’s infinite grace he’s decided to let me live, eternally. He decided to cover my sin and shame with the blood of his innocent son Jesus, and he’s saved me from what I truly deserve. So to assume I deserve better treatment from another human being is laughable. I don’t deserve better, I deserve worse, and God spared me. In response to that; how can I not extend grace to someone else? How can I pretend to be better than them and withdrawal from a conversation because they aren’t treating me well? I can’t.
I urge you, next time you’re in a conversation with friends or family members, make a conscious effort to prevent yourself from interrupting. Let the other person finish her thought, maybe even let her thought hang in silence for a couple of seconds before you jump in with your response. Ask questions, be invested in what she has to say, don’t just sit there thinking about what you want to add.
And, when you notice another person interrupting in a group, call her out (subtly and politely). After she finishes her input, turn back to the person she interrupted and say, “what else were you going to say about that?” or “were you going to say more?” This will let the interrupted party know someone was actually listening to what he had to say, make him feel valued in the conversation, and also kindly reminding the interruptor of her bad habit.
Let’s restore some manners and practice being selfless in our interactions with other people. Let’s remember none of us are perfect, and not expect others to be. But let’s also challenge our friends and family to do better, love better and interrupt less.