Sunday, July 29, 2012

Who Are You Interrupting?

Back in the days when I still watched television, I used to get so riled up at the program hosts’ constant irritating interruptions of their guests I would either turn the television off or leave the room. Sure, some of the guests had their own agendas to promote, but often they were high-ranking individuals in government, business or education.

It seemed that the guests had been invited, not for the information they could share, or even out of respect for their positions as legislators or CEOs or university leaders, but so they could serve as a sounding board for the hosts’ rudely shouted questions.

John McCain was the only guest I ever heard who was able to deflect an obnoxious interrogator with a very calmly spoken, “If you would please let me finish?”

The goal of some programs seemed to be to have the host and several guests all arguing with each other at the same time. I marveled at the apparent inadequacy of the production staff – wasn’t there among the behind-the-scenes crew a single engineer who knew where to find the cut-off switches for the microphones?

One time at a courthouse I was sitting outside a room in which a mediation session was being conducted. Unfortunately, the parties were rather heated and the conversation was loud. I heard a man say: “You interrupt me one more time and I’m out of here.”

The man began to speak again in a more normal tone, but the woman did not heed his warning. She had said scarcely three or four words before the door suddenly flew open. I hadn’t been listening with my ear at the keyhole, but I narrowly missed being run over as the man departed the scene.

A young friend of mine was the only female in a group of medical students. Weekly, the students had a lengthy meeting with the doctors, during which time they discussed the condition and treatment of their patients. The discussions were recorded and transcribed for later review.

In reading the transcripts, my friend was disturbed that her contributions to the discussions often ended in three dots, a punctuation mark used to indicate that the speaker’s voice had trailed off in an indecisive manner. This distressed her so much she replayed the tapes. Virtually every time a male colleague’s voice, or that of a doctor’s, had over-ridden hers, not allowing her to finish what she had intended to say.

I may be over-sensitized to conversational interruptions. A dear family member was particularly guilty of treading on my words, seldom giving me an opportunity of finishing a sentence.

Wrought up and fuming – outright anger is a more precise description – I have searched for a silent hand signal to convey my objections.

Holding my hand up, palm out, is a universal signal to halt, but usually has no effect – the interrupter keeps talking. The referee’s traditional time-out signal is equally ineffective. I asked two court interpreters for the deaf if there is a standard sign language signal to signify a message of “Please do not interrupt me”. They came up, well, empty-handed.

I keep hoping that someone will invent a universally acceptable hand signal that will be a very clear message to the interrupter that means, “You are violating common courtesy by treading on my words”.

Otherwise, my only alternative may be to go flying out of the room.

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