I’ve got a lot to say. I may be young, and inexperienced, and even a bit naive at times, but I still have a voice and feelings. That’s part of the reason I love writing so much; it gives me a place to express those things. So, thank you to the written word.
I don’t think I’m alone in this way. My friends are all people whose opinions I value because they take the time to consider things, and their voices are so valid and insightful.
I spoke with my friend Kelly recently, who told me she was noticing how often she is interrupted in life, and how often she apologizes when she has done nothing wrong. I told her I totally felt that way in my life too, and we decided to write this article as two people getting ready to take on the world (one could even argue we already are) in order to just take a moment to talk about how important it is to listen to each other.
Here's what Kelly had to say about interruptions:
"I get it. People have a lot to say... About pretty much everything. We often say our thoughts right as we think them, which means we end up interrupting each other constantly. It's so easy that most of us don’t even realize we’re doing it. In fact, it seems to me that the only time we become truly aware of interruptions is when they’re happening to us.
I had gone pretty much my whole life without paying much attention to being interrupted until a few weeks ago, when I found myself absolutely livid with my boyfriend who, it seemed on my end, couldn’t let me squeeze in even a sentence during our conversation about car repairs. Not that car repair is a subject that I am particularly passionate about, but still, it seemed to me that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t go three seconds without being interrupted. Now, as a person who tries to spend very little time angry, I was surprised at how much it got under my skin. I thought maybe it was just something my boyfriend did… And then I had dinner with his family.
Now there's a group of people who really have a lot to say! So I left thinking, OK, he gets it from his parents, that makes sense. But not two days later, I went to lunch with my mother and realized that she did the same thing, which only begged the question, did I inherit the interrupting gene too? I examined myself over the next couple of days and realized that I was interrupting people just as much as they were interrupting me! But no one seemed to be upset about it; it just felt like a normal conversation. At this point I got to thinking, why do we interrupt one another in the first place, and is it really such a bad thing anyway?
I spent some more time investigating my own conversations and asking others what they thought, and here are some takeaways I found intriguing. Most people I talked to, including myself, felt that they were more likely to interrupt or be interrupted by someone they are close to. Which makes sense because we aren’t worried about making a bad impression or being the cause of discomfort. But people also said that the time they felt most annoyed by being interrupted is when it’s someone close to them doing the interrupting! (Ironic, right?) But really, that makes sense too, because the people we are closest to are those we want to hear and respect us the most.
But the biggest source of frustration I found from being interrupted was when there was an element of power or superiority involved. Whether or not someone actually knows more about something than you do or has more to say about it, we all want to feel valid in our thoughts and opinions, and there's nothing more invalidating than being interrupted to correct or scold that way of thinking. So I took all this weird cacophony of information and picked just five things I felt would serve me well in future conversations, maybe you will find them useful too.
1. Interruptions are normal!
They happen all the time and they are certainly not something to feel guilty or ashamed about when you’re having a chat about the Olympics or the weather.
2. Figure out your relationship to the person you’re talking to.
Are you listening to your best friend vent about her ex who she just saw at Starbucks with another girl? Maybe now wouldn’t be the best time to butt in with the funny thing your cat did yesterday. Or maybe you are pleading with your professor to bump your grade up in biology because you really did finish your diagram of a plant cell, and your dog really DID eat it. Whatever the conversation might be about, figure out who you are to the person you’re talking to in that moment and how you want to be received by them.
3. Interruptions can be powerful and intentional, so use them wisely.
If, say, you’re in a conversation with a person of color about white privilege and a white person cuts them off to interject about their experience, this could be an excellent time to use an interruption to redirect the conversation, which brings me to the next point…
4. How you interrupt is important.
Jumping right into your thought often leaves people feeling unheard and disrespected. Try instead to use a phrase like, “to add on to what you were saying...” or “that's a great point, and I was thinking...” or even just a simple “yes, totally! And…" Even just explaining why you’re interrupting can create a shift in the way it's received. Maybe you want to interrupt with an icy cold response, maybe you want it to be harsh, and that's OK, just be intentional. And lastly...
5. Do more listening!
The biggest thing I learned from all this was how much time I spent coming up with what I was going to say while the other person was talking, and how much that took away from me really hearing what the other person was saying. I’m sure most people have heard the term “active listening” once or twice before, and it turns out, that might actually be a pretty dang good thing to get in the habit of doing! But like most things, it takes practice and patience, so don’t beat yourself up if you find it's harder at first than you thought it would be."
I then took some time to reflect on my own conversations and the role apologies often take.
I first realized how often I apologize when a friend mine said to me, 'Lauren, you’ve got to stop saying you’re sorry all the time.' I know, I know, I responded. But in my head, I was saying I’m sorry for saying sorry.
I think there are a couple of ways I apologize for things I didn’t do or things that weren’t wrong.
First, I find I take too much responsibility for other’s actions and other’s feelings.
I apologize to people when they are feeling upset when I have done nothing to make them feel upset. But the problem with the words “I’m sorry” is they take too much ownership over the problem. If someone is upset and I am trying to comfort them, it is not my responsibility to take ownership of their feeling and fix it. That’s unfair to them and it makes them feel powerless. I need to listen, understand how they’re feeling, and respond as someone supporting them, not changing their feelings. People need to feel and process on their own. By saying sorry, I’m saying it’s over, it’s fixed, I’ve got it, and they’re probably sitting there saying whoa, you didn’t do anything wrong, I just need to feel this right now.
And then on the reverse, I often apologize for my feelings.
What, that’s insane! I know. But I think our culture presents people with the feeling that people should be happy all the time, and that anger, sadness, and other feelings are bad and should be erased. How wrong. We need to express our emotions, and we will feel a range of different emotions at any time. Taking the time to feel and understand your emotions is healthy and the best way to process what you’re going through. Saying sorry to others about your feelings just reinforces that those feelings are bad and should be erased. Don’t apologize for feeling (note to self)!
In the end, remember how important it is to listen to each other, and to yourself!