Ask Amy: Uninterrupted Conversations Lead to Monologues
Is interjecting really as "rude" as her husband claims?
Dear Amy: My husband maintains that when a person is speaking, we should remain completely silent until the speaker stops, and then wait two extra beats, to make sure the person who is speaking is not just taking a breath.
The trouble is that when we do this, his friends hold forth for 20 to 50 minutes.
I maintain that 20- to 50-minute monologues are fine for a classroom or TED talk, but are inconsiderate for casual conversation in a bar, restaurant, living room, or via Zoom.
I say it’s fine to insert an enthusiastic, “That’s right!” or interject a brief and relevant personal anecdote or pertinent news item.
I do agree that interrupting to change the subject is rude (unless the speaker has already held forth for 50 minutes).
He insists that all interruptions are equally disrespectful.
What say you, Amy?
– Bored by Monologues
Dear Bored: TED talks (TED.org) are capped at 18 minutes – and many are shorter; the founder of the famous speaker series knows that both speakers and listeners tend to wander if a monologue goes on too long.
What your husband doesn’t seem to realize is that for many people, even two beats of silence creates a chasm which must be filled!
Speakers might not be able to read your social silence as politeness. If you aren’t occasionally offering an “Oh yes, I know exactly what you mean…” or a “Well, I understand your point of view, but I beg to differ,” then you are not really inviting a conversation, but settling in as audience members for a monologue.
Fortunately, it is not vital that you and your husband have the same conversational style. You might be a more engaged and lively listener; he, however, enjoys and is more comfortable enclosed in his bubble of self-righteous silence.
A spouse, partner, or family member can be extremely helpful in offering gentle (sometimes, not so gentle) course-corrections; they observe social interactions with an intimate knowledge, and they notice patterns in behavior. Your husband can make suggestions, but he does not have the right to dictate how you should communicate with other people.
His own rigid listening style shows an impressive amount of tolerance toward other people. He should apply a measure of that to you.
In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068
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