Life is full of interruptions. Some are great (when a toddler taps you on the shoulder to deliver such important information as WEE WHOO LEEE LAAYYY HEDGEHOG BUTT, it is never not hilarious). Others, however, are of the not-so-great variety. Like when someone constantly interrupts a story you’re telling or talks over you. (We get it, Brad, you know a lot about craft beer.) It’s almost always infuriating, and it’s pretty much universally considered rude behavior. And, chances are, whether you’re talking to your friends, family, or your spouse — definitely your spouse, you’re very guilty of this behavior, too. Because, well, you’re a man and men interrupt. So what’s the underlying psychology of interrupting and how can we learn to stop?
Interruption is a tried and true way of asserting dominance in a conversation. And, per a rather wide array of social science research, men are the main interruptors. Whether intentionally or not, interruptions happen in regular conversations all the time. But the habit is particularly present when men speak to women. In fact, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology found that men interrupt women an average of 2.1 times over the course of a three-minute conversation. (When talking to men, they interrupted nearly one-third less.)
Whether you realize you’re a chronic-interruptor or not, interrupting all the time is not good for your image or relationships. It pisses people off and makes you seem like a boorish, insensitive, impatient Alpha male who can’t wait a few minutes to interject with a counter-argument, funny story, or FACTOID ABOUT SOUR BEERS, BRAD. Do it enough and it also puts other people immediately on the defensive. As none of these are enjoyable outcomes, here are seven tips to help you stop interrupting people so often and kick the habit for good.
Don’t Think About What You’ll Say Next
People with a predilection for interruption will often simply wait until their partner is done talking and then jump in with an already formulated response. However, Dr. Racine R. Henry, a marriage and family therapist and the founder of Sankofa Marriage & Family Therapy, PLLC, suggests simply listening during a conversation instead of locking and loading what you’re saying next. “Be engaged with what they’re saying and what they’re trying to convey to you,” she says. “Versus thinking, ‘What am I going to say back to them?’ Don’t form your answer in your head while they’re speaking.”
Wait 10 Seconds
Just 10 seconds. A serial interrupter has the tendency to seek out any gap in the conversation and take it as their cue to leap in and steamroll ahead. An intake of breath can open the door for an interrupter to hijack the conversation. Racine suggests that, when your partner is done talking, pause for 10. “That way, you can really be sure that the other person is finished with their statement, versus just taking a breath or pausing,” she says. “This way you’re not just interrupting them mid-sentence or mid- train of thought.”
Stop Looking for a Solution
Men are fixers. It’s just the way dudes are wired (and socialized from a young age as well). As a result, sometimes the nuances of conversation are lost and we spend the entire discussion focusing on “What can I do?” or “How can I help?” So, when someone is talking about an issue, the fixer is already working on the problem and devising an answer, which they will probably blurt out mid-sentence. “Sometimes it isn’t about improving anything or fixing anything,” Racine says. “Sometimes it’s just about listening and about being there and supporting someone.”
Try the ‘Repeat Back’ Method
During stressful conversations or fights, Racine suggests repeating back what your partner has just relayed. Not verbatim, but a reframing of what was said that shows them that you not only heard it, but that you also understood it. “It’s a really good listening technique,” she says. “So if someone says, ‘I’m angry at you because you hurt my feelings,’ saying back to them, ‘So what you’re saying is, because I did this thing that caused you pain, you’re now angry at me for not making a better decision.’ That way, the conversation stays about what they’re trying to convey and what they’re saying to you, and less about your reactivity to it.”
Turn the Tables
If your spouse has pointed out your penchant for cutting him or her off, it might be wise to have them show you what it feels like by demonstrating how your interruptions come across. “Sometimes experiencing what others are experiencing with you can be quite eye-opening,” says Heidi McBain, a Texas-based marriage and family therapist.
Take Yourself Out of It
When one partner is venting to the other, sometimes men want to remove themselves from the discussion as a means of avoiding drama. They don’t want to hear about the annoying coworker or a dustup with their wife’s friend, and they’ll cut the conversation off in the hopes of cutting it short. However, Racine says that’s when they have to remove themselves from the equation. “This is about supporting the person that’s talking to you or hearing about their experience,” she says. “So how can you look at it through their lens and think about what they’re feeling?”
Listen, it sounds weird, but if you’re a serial interruptor, you need to practice listening and shutting up. McBain recommends practicing the art of conversation with your spouse every night. But, instead of having the floor, take the time to lend an ear and simply listen to what your partner has to say. “Pick a topic and then listen to what they other person is saying,” she says, “reflect back what you’re hearing them say, and check in to make sure what you’re hearing is truly what they are saying.”