Why Do We Interrupt Others?

I was dismayed by what happened today on a program on CBC: two women discussed (?) the issue of a ‘white’ editor being employed by Essence magazine. For the most part, both ladies spoke at the same time refusing to relent for a second. They didn’t seem to have any interest in what the other person had to say, and they didn’t seem to think the audience had a say in this either. I couldn’t believe two professionals who couldn’t tolerate a different view for more than a few seconds. And on public radio too!

I keep coming across this in society too. People keep interrupting each other. I can imagine, at some points, it can save time. This is when, for example, someone wants you to do five chores and he/she starts reiterating them. Now, if you have done one to four, it would make sense to make a polite interruption with a warning to say that one to four is done, and only five needs to be discussed.  

I also know some people tend to start from point zero when you ask a question. I once asked an agriculture engineer a simple question about sunflowers. He started with the history of plant kingdom describing all categories … I never got the answer to my question, and I don’t know why: did what he said got lost somewhere in the history, or did I doze off when he reached evergreens. Interrupting these people probably would not make a difference I guess.

I often find that people seem to take no interest in what the other person has to say. Shouldn’t we give the other person a chance? Could we not conceive that we can learn from others? Why don’t we let them talk or finish what they have to say? Or is it just that we are forgetting to share ideas (share as in give and take not just give, give, give) and believing that there is a lot the other person may have to teach to us if we only give him/her a chance? Or do we think that our views and ideas are simply more important and/or interesting than those of others?

I do a lot of organizational work and thus attend many meetings. I once attended an art summit where we were divided into groups to discuss issues. We picked a moderator  who clearly stated that the discussion was not to be dominated by one person (after the first person started to talk for 10 minutes) and that no one could interrupt anyone else (after she was interrupted by two other people). Needless to say, the moderator was crowned as the bad guy, but the discussion went very civil and very productive.

We have tried that in many meetings within the Iranian community, and I am very pleased that it often works very well. They are times when people get offended when they are reminded that they should wait for their turn to speak, there are times when people interrupt, but overall they work. It is interesting that when the same people attend a different meeting when there is no moderator or taking turns (specified at the beginning), they keep dominating the conversation and interrupting. The lesson? No matter how well intentioned we are, we need rules to keep in line. That must have been what occurred to humans at some point in history that we have capacity to be just about anything, and that is exactly why we need rules we all agree on and stick to.

 I wonder whether there are such rules on CBC for panelists, or it is the host that decides it is best to leave it up to panelists to be as considerate as possible. The latter was close to what happened today; the host left the ladies to waste chunks of time before he moved on to the next question. And guess what? Sometimes they interrupted him too!

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