If I’m not interrupting, I’m not listening. This is my explanation of and defense for being a bad listener.

“Let me finish my sentence” is a phrase I hear several times a day, and sometimes it’s shortened to simply, “Jolene, please, shut up.”

So when I meet someone who talks faster than I do and interrupts more than I do, I think, “Take it away, big mouth.” “The floor is all yours, because I need a break.” “Talk as fast as you want and interrupt as much as you need to because I’m not listening.” “As you share your thoughts, one after the other, in rapid succession, my brain is relaxing by taking a mental sidetrack. Rest assured, when I have something to share, I will interrupt.”

Stop talking while I’m interrupting.

I happily share the stage with other interrupters because when I do, all my guilt over interrupting fades away and my focus shifts to being louder and funnier.

We interrupters – I’m speaking for all of us now – are annoyingly confident and extremely competitive when it comes to conversations.

If I have the chance to choose my seat at a long table of diners, I will always pick the middle. I want the chance to jump into any conversation I deem interesting. Being stuck at the end of the table, with the possibility of just one or two conversations to interrupt, is a risk I’m not willing to take.

I wonder if there are people who like being at the end of the table. Selfless diners willing to take the chance that the person to their left or right will have something interesting to contribute. Now that I think of it, they are probably just avoiding me.

In defense of interrupting:

“One of the issues I kept saying to my students is you have to learn to interrupt. When you raise your hand at a meeting, by the time they get to you, the point is not germane. So the bottom line is active listening. If you are going to interrupt, you look for opportunities. You have to know what you’re talking about.” – Madeleine Albright

The key, according to Ms. Albright, is to listen and then interrupt. If I am going to improve my listening skills, I will need to actually listen to what the other person is saying before I interrupt, therefore, moving the real conversation forward instead of the internal mental sidetrack that is playing in my head.

In defense of mental sidetracks and an explanation for my new favorite phrase,“mental sidetracks”:

According to a Harvard Business Review study: The average person speaks at a rate of about 125 words per minute. However, the human brain can process information at a significantly faster rate. The resulting impatience causes the listener to go off on mental sidetracks unrelated to the topic of discussion. (Hallelujah, it’s not just me!)

Although the listener may catch himself or herself and return to the conversation, the speaker has moved ahead by that time. Catching up is hard, so the listener becomes tempted again to take a mental detour.

As a result, the average listener may hear and understand only about half of what the speaker says. (Catching 50 percent of what someone says is a good day for me.)

Life is not a monologue, and why I need interrupting friends:

Blessed with some seriously loud friends, we interrupt each other at dinner parties and yell our opinions across the table. Talking over each other is pure joy until someone inevitably feels the need to prove a claim by fact-checking a random argument about the lyrics to a Talking Heads song proving that, no, they did not write “Take Me to the River” (though their version of it was No. 26 on the Billboard pop chart).

Madness stopped, we stand corrected and silenced by the almighty Google. All good unless you are invested in this temporary madness at the end of a responsibility-filled week.

“Interjecting,” “interposing,” “interrupting” – label it what you will, it’s how and when you do it that makes for the best conversation.

Carry on.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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