On Interrupting


When we talk about Deep Listening being called for, that means we're making space for the other person. Lots of space. We're practicing kindness, generosity, and patience, allowing the other person to struggle with and through their thoughts and feelings. This is a messy but beautiful business, steeping another in compassion. Not only do we refrain from interrupting, as we might forever alter the trajectory of their thoughts, but we also don't move much and we dial back our animation and gestures. We want to give the person plenty of time to say and do whatever it is they are saying and doing. And when they appear to be finished, we wait a bit longer (at least a slow count to five). We thank them for the honor of being their Listener. And we don't launch into advice; we practice being together in the wake of whatever was just shared.


In Defense of Interrupting

Okay, I'm not really going to defend interrupting, but I am going to discuss what linguistics professor Deborah Tannen calls "cooperative overlapping . . . a particularly active form of participatory listenership." Here's a wonderful TikTok that might shed some light.


Not all overlapping is cooperative, and not all situations call for any overlapping at all. If you overlap when someone is sharing a poignant or upsetting story or is trying to figure out how they feel about something, that's not cooperative.


Once again, I find myself saying there's no universal checklist for listening. There are, however, skillful habits to cultivate that become crucial components of your listening habits. They're the same components that are crucial to speaking and sometimes moving.

  • Connect with yourself

  • Constantly check in with your bodily sensations and any thoughts you're having

  • Listen, with curiosity and without judgment, to what's happening in you as well as what's coming from the other person

  • Resist the temptation to interpret what's coming from the other person

  • Double-check any assumptions you've made about what's happening with you

  • Know your audience (i.e., If you have a tendency to be "interrupty," you probably know that's fine with certain people and not fine with others. Or at least I hope you know!)

In other words, interactions are a series of exchanges, verbal and otherwise, that can be misinterpreted. If you're not sure what someone means, ask rather than assuming you've accurately understood their words, mannerisms, tone, or even their silence. As Nicholas Eply writes,

Others’ minds will never be an open book. The secret to understanding each other better seems to come not through an increased ability to read body language or improved perspective taking but, rather, through the hard relational work of putting people in a position where they can tell you their minds openly and honestly.

Have a lovely week, and if you're interested in attending the mini-retreat on Saturday, June 4, from 9 am - 12:30 pm, ET (UTC-4), hit REPLY and let me know!

mm