Interrupt Me Not

I take pride in being a pretty nice person. I am generally very accomodating and I am always an excellent listener. I turned mean, though, on a recent evening. I was talking to a couple of men I know and was sharing an observation about social influences in culture when - mid-sentence - one of the men interrupted me to tell me that my shirt was pretty. If I wasn't so into peace and non-violence, I think I would have enjoyed slapping him right about then. Instead, I gave him a really, really mean look.

He immediately went on the defensive (or more like offensive) and tried to make me out to be an ice queen who couldn't take a compliment.

His friend - let's call him Switzerland - tried to keep the peace. I told Switzerland that this wasn't about this particular incident; it was about a pattern of behavior. Mr. Pretty Shirt oscillates between teasing me and chiding me for being so quiet. That's why it makes zero sense that when I finally start talking, he makes a habit of interrupting me.

Mr. Pretty Shirt is a good person at heart, but is unaware of his tendency to dominate conversations. I think no one has really called him out on it because he's a man. I guess he has enough redeeming qualities where people are willing to put up with this behavior (myself included, thus far). I've seen people deal with him by being loud and boisterous and interrupting back, but that just isn't my style.

Why do we (usually women) put up with this behavior (usually from men)? Well, look at Mr. Pretty Shirt's reaction: instead of acknowledging that he offended me, he acted like I did something wrong. Whether men realize it or not, the deck is stacked in their favor when it comes to defining social situations. There is plenty (I'd estimate a boat load) of research to document this. It has to do with a lot of things ranging from hormones to social upbringing to linguistics.

Why am I writing about this? First, I love writing about taboo subjects that few people want to touch. Second, I think men could use some honest feedback (and it's probably easier to digest the information through a story about someone else's misstep).

P.S. Obviously not all men are like this. In fact, most of the men with whom I interact are quite the opposite. Also, I have a couple of close female friends (you know who you are) who are infamous interruptors. What I am talking about is a pattern and how it plays out when men and women interact.

P.P.S. I've been watching how these dynamics play out in social media for more than a year now. Really interesting stuff. There are definite gender dynamics that play out explicitly and implicitly, both online and offline.


  1. I interrupt WAY too often. Stop me if I ever do it to you. My personal issue is that I'm afraid I'll forget something... maybe I should carry a notepad to jot a note - some people do that.

    (I sure hope I wasn't the one above! I know I complimented your attire recently. If so, drop me a note so I can get clear)

    An issue for some people is that they grew up in a family where interrupting is normal - they just don't know about expectations of shutting up until it's your turn.

    Anyway, as I say, blow the whistle if I do it. I'm truly working on letting people talk until they're done.

  2. Dave, a) complimenting my attire is appreciated and b) this post is about a friend outside of health care!

    I agree that there are strong familial influences here...and cognitive, too. I have the same issue as you - if I don't get a thought out, I forget it. That's probably one reason I'm so quiet around talkers. I'm definitely following what people are saying (and having thoughts about it), but as people jump to the next thing, I forget what I coulda/woulda/shoulda said...and end up not saying much of anything.

    When I do make the effort to contribute to a conversation, if someone interrupts me, I forget what I was saying. Then they are like, oh, sorry, keep going (the ones who notice they interrupted)! But by then I've forgotten what I was saying and don't feel like saying it any more. For me, talking requires a certain level of inspiration and that inspiration is finicky.

    That's one reason I love writing so much. I can sort through all of the information I have heard...and no one can interrupt me! :0)

    P.S. I can't help but think of my dog Bella - a Basenji mutt (Basenjis don't bark). What is really hilarious about her is that if there is something that warrants barking (at least from a dog perspective) and *no one* else will step up to the plate and bark (rare in a household with two other dogs who like to bark), she will actually bark! She lets out single, intermittent barks. This rarely happens, but always get my attention.