My courteous, salt-of-the-earth, Midwestern husband, Rod, does not like that I interrupt him when we’re talking. Take, for example, this exchange:
Rod: "When you get home from your trip on Saturday, let’s plan on a quiet evening."
Tammy: "That sounds good. I’ll be tired anyway."
Rod: [spoken with a note of vexation] "I wasn’t finished. As I was saying, when you get home on Saturday, let’s plan on a quiet evening…"
Tammy: [Waits, then finally thinks it’s safe to speak] "Ok."
Rod: [Furrowed brow now quite apparent] "…let’s plan on a quiet evening; we could do something like a simple dinner, then a DVD; or maybe a board game…"
I hear periods signaling the ends of sentences, but he’s speaking in semi-colons and ellipses. No wonder he thinks I’m interrupting. From his perspective, I am. From mine, I think the pause means he’s done with his thought. And I’m comfortable with conversational overlapping. While there’s more to interrupting than gender and cultural differences, my female friends and clients suggest that I’m not a lone overlapper.
I’m a "high involvement" speaker. Gender and communications expert Deborah Tannen suggests that "high involvement" speakers express support for a conversation with simultaneous speech (called "cooperative overlapping"). We high-involvement gals (yes, a lot of us are women) generally don’t mind being overlapped because we’ll yield to the other if we feel like it or ignore the intrusion if we don’t. And since overlapping feels normal to us, it doesn’t seem like a bothersome intrusion into the conversation.
Rod, on the other hand, is probably more of a "high considerateness" speaker (again, Tannen’s term) and, as such, is more concerned with not imposing on the other speaker. He almost never overlaps. I joke that it’s the result of his courteous mid-Western upbringing. (Rod suggested I include this side note: The zealousness for courtesy in his family had the downside of many a family dinner with not a whole lot of conversation going on!)
My overlapping can feel like rude interruption to him and his considerateness can feel like disinterest to me. Imagine, then, the ways that a difficult conversation can get more difficult between a high involvement speaker and a high considerateness speaker.
It’s another good reason why it’s as important to figure out how to talk as it is what to talk about.