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“Well, did I tell you before when I was up?
Anxiety was bringing me down
I’m tired of listening to you talking in rhymes
Twisting ‘round to make me think you’re straight down the line
All you do to me is talk, talk
Talk, talk, talk, talk…”

—Talk Talk, 1982

Welcome to 2024, another year with opportunities to start fresh and to cleanse as well as learn from the errors of our ways. Of course that’s easier said than done, but let’s give it a try. Remember that classic from the 80’s? Almost as good as “Shut Up” from Run DMC with a similar meaning. Sports fans will recognize the play on the title “Pardon the Interruption” with Tony and Wilbon basically shouting each other down. Wasn’t it Ross Perot who in the 1992 debates simply asked “Can I finish? Can I finish?” Actually I would have taken the Stephen A. Smith approach where he often retorts “Did I ask you to interrupt?”

I got a few good vibes from those who read the editorial on leadership, especially the message about how leaders listen more than they speak. One great resolution for society to make, which I also brought up a year or so ago for the New Year, would be the eradication of the interruption. I doubt 2024 will be any different, whether we are interrupted by patients who are the real medical experts, or by strangers barging into a conversation, the undeserved headaches brought to the recipients never end.

As defined by, interrupting is defined as such: “to interrupt someone is to interfere in their activity, disrupt their conversation, or to disturb their peace and quiet.” We have all been in scenarios where we can see the interruptions coming and we can’t avoid it, or even worse when we know who the talkers and interrupters are during a meeting or interaction and there’s nowhere to run…sadly it creates avoidance and reputation for people who might otherwise be decent. There is nothing more entertaining to me than the phrase “sorry to interrupt” when someone comes barging full on into a conversation either with hands on a shoulder or sticking a head in and breaking all momentum of discussion…and you just want to answer “screw that, you absolutely intended to interrupt.” Usually that’s a function of sales, the medical people always stand by and politely wait their turns…hopefully not to interrupt.

Few bad habits have blossomed since the pandemic as much as the prevalence of interrupting, which probably resulted from our virtual meetings going haywire. Remember the scene in Trading Places where Wilson was pleading with the traders to “SELL, SELL” and how bludgeoned he was? That was basically every moderator of a virtual meeting where chaos beat etiquette in straight sets.

Most communication experts suggest that the best way to handle being interrupted is to either ask permission to finish or to simply keep talking, but it is definitely hard to overcome someone’s alpha complex that makes him or her feel like talking is a show of strength. Sadly, it fits the psychological basis of interrupting, which is “interrupting happens when we want to put our goals before the other person’s goals, or before the apparently mutual goals of the conversation.” I have yet to find a good answer to being interrupted, but when I moderate virtual calls I insist that everyone stays muted and uses the “raise hand” icon when it is time to speak. I also do my best to keep stride in my thought hoping that the interrupter will stand down…good luck with that right?

In the simplest sense, there is no great way to handle interrupting without the recipient actually looking like the bad guy. Most of us who get interrupted usually just stop talking and wait for the barrage to pass, often with an internal eye roll or sigh, but when we actually take the initiative to say “just a second” or “let me finish” we create a disturbance in the force that is palpable to the interrupter such that the mood of the room is damaged…shame on you for actually defending your place as the one who was speaking. Nowhere is this truer than with patients, who constantly interrupt our flow of explanation and discussion of a plan because they either want to big league us with their internet search, or they already know what is best, or even worse, know what they don’t want. But once again, should we dare ask to finish speaking we get labeled as mean or impolite and another star on Yelp comes down.

Indians are notorious interrupters…yes I will say it because I can, although the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Believe me, having been surrounded by them for my life I have tried to accept being cut off mid-sentence, to having three (or more) people talk to me at once impervious to any other voices, and to literally never getting a word in. There’s nothing more rewarding as a physician than being pounded on mercilessly for free medical advice, then getting cut off mid-sentence trying to answer the questions that could easily be resolved by letting me finish a thought. Of course we can’t invoice family, or can we?

Well pardon the interruption this time, but don’t next time…and for those interrupters out there, try switching to decaf for a while.

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