Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On the Non-Awesomeness of Interrupting

Most people don't enter into a conversation with the aim of interrupting people. Rather, it seems to be a learned behavior.  Some people have conditioned themselves to think that interrupting people is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.  I know someone who grew up in a home where they interrupted each other fairly often and (on the face of it) it didn't seem to bother anyone.  It was just what they did.

Admittedly, I am more bothered by interruptions than most people, but I do think there are good reasons for not interrupting people.  Some of the more obvious reasons are as follows:

  1. Interrupting people reveals your lack of interest in the full thought or idea of the other person.  This could be due to the fact that you think you: 
    1. already know what they are going to say (which is presumptuous or impatient)
    2. don't think much of what the other person has to say (which is uncharitable)
    3. just don't think much of the person who is talking (which is often prideful)
  2. Interrupting people robs you of getting to know a person more thoroughly.  If you regularly interrupt someone, they will learn that you are not the kind of person who wants to get to know them.  So if you are someone who interrupts people a lot and you feel lonely or you feel like no one understands you, it may be because you are not the kind of person who is able to get to know someone thoroughly.  Getting to know someone well involves talking about your like and dislikes, interests, ideas, and hobbies. Fleshing that out requires given and take and actual interest in the other person. When you interrupt someone you are showing them that you aren't interested in their likes and dislikes, interests, ideas, and hobbies. So don't be surprised when they aren't interested in yours.
  3. Interrupting people often reveals that you think the other person cannot teach you anything.  I have found that I can learn something from anyone.  I have never met a person who is incapable of teaching me something.  What you might learn is what not to do or how not to think, but always be interested in hearing what people have to say because in one way or another you can learn something from them.
  4. Interrupting people can be a sign of your small attention span. Despite what some people think, it is a bad thing to have a short attention span. Mastery of almost any subject requires a long attention span as you need to spend long periods of time digesting and synthesizing information.  Short attention spans prevent you from doing this and yes... that's a bad thing.
  5. Interrupting people is disrespectful.  Even if a person doesn't have much to say, you listen to them anyway.  When you do this, it doesn't mean that you think they are saying something true or profound.  Rather, by listening to them you are telling them that you respect them in virtue of their being a rational agent made in the image of God. If you have no other reason to listen to someone, do it for this reason.
Of course there are times when interruption is necessary.  We are all busy and have things to do.  Sometimes the person who is talking with you does not know how to respect your time. So I am not saying that there is never a time to interrupt people.  That being said, today we have an epidemic of conversational interruptions. This leads to all sorts of unintended consequences that range from the inability to form real friendships to the inability to learn difficult and complicated subjects.

There is another side to interrupting. When you are talking with someone, be mindful of how much time you have spent talking.  If you haven't heard from the other person in a while - WRAP IT UP! Then ask them what they think about something or what they would like to do.

This is something that previous generations seemed to do far better than us.  I fear that our current emphasis on multitasking is one contributor to our inability to relate to people in distinctively human ways.  While I understand that everyone needs to do some multitasking - don't fall into the silly idea that multitasking is good for you.  It's not. You do it because you have to, not because it's good for you.

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