How can you interrupt me when I’ve already finished?

We all know that being interrupted when you’re talking is a bit annoying. And if you’re interested in verbal communication, you’ve probably read some of the copious research on interrupting and will know that the phenomenon is linked to factors like nationality, status and gender. Most of the findings aren’t really surprising: people interrupt friends more often than they interrupt strangers, different people have different conversational styles that aren’t always compatible, men interrupt more than women, and so on.

We also know that culture and context matters. I’m perfectly well aware of how
my own tendency to interrupt varies wildly with the context. I’m unlikely to speak over a colleague in a work meeting, and if a colleague spoke over me I would interpret it as a dominance play. But with my fast-talking close family, I’ll expect to be part of conversations where everybody excitedly overlaps each other and there are very few pauses.

So interrupting, as a social and linguistic phenomenon, is well and truly noted. But a while back, I noticed a behaviour that bothers me way more than interrupting. And I don’t have a name for it! It’s when you’ve actually finished speaking, but the other person behaves in a way that you’d otherwise associate with an interruption. They might chime in with something completely irrelevant the second you finish speaking, with no acknowledgement that you’ve said anything at all. Or they might behave as if they think they’re interrupting – putting a hand out as if to silence you, saying “Sorry” or “Hang on” before changing the subject.

It’s not the “overlappy” kind of interrupting where the other person is basically finishing your sentences, it’s a complete halt and subject change. It annoys me more than a straightforward interruption and I’ve been trying to work out why.

I guess it’s annoying partly because it denies the speaker a reaction. If you’re mid-flow and someone silences you to urgently say “Darling, is that the coffee boiling over?” you can go back to what you were saying once the emergency is dealt with. But if the coffee suddenly becomes a problem the split-second after your hilarious punchline or dramatic revelation, you’ve lost that moment when you would otherwise expect a reaction, and the conversation moves on.

I like to keep track of conversational threads, so I’m often the person who will try to get someone to resume an interrupted story. With a straightforward interruption, the person usually remembers roughly what they were saying and is pleased to be invited to plunge back into their story. With this weird post-speech “interruption” thing, it’s way more awkward because the speaker is already done. They usually say something like “Oh. Well. That was it, really. The clown had a gun on him…that’s all.”

I would be interested in finding out what Verbal Tea readers think about this.

  • Is it a “thing” that needs a name, or am I just describing normal interruptions that just occasionally happen to be mistimed for the split-second after the speaker has finished?
  • If it’s a thing, what kind of contexts make it more likely to happen and why do you think people do it?
  • If it’s a thing, what should it be called? (Enderruption?)
Explore posts in the same categories: conversational tactics

2 Comments on “How can you interrupt me when I’ve already finished?”

  1. […] blogged recently-ish about the thing where people butt in at the exact moment a speaker has finished speaking. They’re not butting in with a reaction to what’s just been said (positive or negative) – […]

  2. Julieanne Says:

    Sometimes it might be mistimed, or that what you just said makes a (weird?) connection in the listeners head, so when you finish they are connecting, but in a really weird way?

    But other times, probably more often, the person isn’t really listening, or has something they really want to say so that the moment you stop they Enderrupt.

    I cannot think of contexts right now, so the above is just my ‘feeling’ upon reading this.

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