All of us interrupt now and again. But who we interrupt may be dependent on our gender.
A groundbreaking study conducted in 1975 by Don Zimmerman and Candace West, sociologists at UCSB, looked at 31 conversations and found that men were responsible for all but one of the 48 mixed-sex interruptions they heard.
In a July 23, 2014, blog post for www.Slate.com, empirical linguist Kieran Snyder described how she tracked 15 hours of mixed-gender conversation over a four-week period and found that men interrupted twice as often as women and were nearly three times more likely to interrupt women as they were other men.
Another study by Adrienne Hancock and Benjamin Rubin, published in the May 11, 2014, issue of Journal of Language and Social Psychology, showed that men interrupted women 2.1 times over the course of a three-minute conversation. When a man talked to another male, that number was 1.8. Women conversing with other women interrupted each other 2.9 times; talking with a man, they interrupted only once.
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There’s even a neologism — manterrupting — that Collins English Dictionary defines as “when a man interrupts a woman as she is talking.”
Sociologists have had a heyday analyzing why this happens.
Some see interrupting as an attempt to claim dominance over the speaker. Others say it’s a cultural phenomenon and that both women and men are acting out gender-specific roles.
Interrupting can be nothing more than an overeager speaker wanting to jump in and do the talking. Or it may be that women are too sensitive about engaging in conflict and should be encouraged to stand their ground.
Of course, sweeping generalizations are always risky. One woman I know admits to being the “world’s worst interrupter.” And I know plenty of guys who are top-notch listeners. Still, at the very least interruptions are annoying; at their worst they’re aggressive acts. We’d all be better off sharing the conversational stage and waiting our turn to speak.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to deal with an interrupter:
▪ Ask to finish what you were saying. Calmly tell the offender, “You interrupted me. I wasn’t done yet.”
▪ Keep on talking. Act as if the interruption didn’t happen. When offenders realize that they don’t have the floor, they may back down.
▪ Interrupt the interrupter. Turn the tables and let them know how it feels.
▪ Speak to the interrupter privately. Clearly state that the behavior is both disruptive and disrespectful. Explore strategies for preventing it from happening in the future.
▪ Establish communication rules. Determine ahead of time who can talk and how to know when speakers are done.
▪ Set a timer. Allot each speaker a predetermined length of time to present their case.
▪ Avoid being long-winded. If you perennially hog conversations, speakers need to interrupt you to be heard. Learn to express yourself in short, concise sentences. You’ll set an example for others to follow.