If someone wants to talk to you
Listen to them until they’re through.
No matter if they talk till dawn,
Don’t interrupt, look bored or yawn.
Hold your words and don’t be vexed;
Your turn to speak is coming next.

Interrupt only if you see
A prisoner running free,
A porcupine who wants to play,
A solar eclipse (look away!),
A bucking, snorting runaway horse,
Or a house on fire, of course.”

John Bemelmans Marciano
, Madeline Says Merci: The-Always-Be-Polite Book

This excerpt comes from one of my most treasured childhood books. The passage above, in particular, has always stuck with me…cemented by a comical illustration of Madeline quietly waiting her turn to speak while a prisoner is escaping, a porcupine is introducing himself, a solar eclipse is forming overhead, a wild horse is making its getaway, and a house is in flames. (All cited as valid reasons to interrupt someone!) One of the most fundamental childhood precepts – we’re talking Manners 101 – is to refrain from interrupting others without good reason. Yet I see a building epidemic of self-centeredness in our culture; one where interrupting is becoming so commonplace that it really is quite disgraceful. It’s rare to observe, or partake in, a conversation where all parties are actively listening to the current speaker and someone is not rudely interrupting and interjecting. And so, as elementary as the topic may seem, I believe there is a significant need to revisit this basic lesson in conversation etiquette.

Let’s begin at the beginning. What exactly does it mean to “interrupt”? It is defined as follows:

interrupt (ˌɪntəˈrʌpt)
1. to break the continuity of (an action, event, etc) or hinder (a person) by intrusion
2. to cease to perform (some action)
3. to obstruct (a view)
4. to prevent or disturb (a conversation, discussion, etc) by questions, interjections, or comment

Some synonyms of “interrupt” include: cut off, break up, put aside, put away, butt in, chime in, chisel in, barge in, break in, burst in, burst upon, disturb, disrupt, discontinue, end, stop, and terminate.

What a list! Interrupting (without due cause) is just plain rude. However, for most people, interrupting is not a malicious act…it is simply a bad habit that needs unlearned. Are you a girl, interrupting? Then allow me to share with you two underlying causes that may be the source of this bad habit. If we identify the problem, we can identify the solution. #1, some girls interrupt because they have…

Interruption: a way to demonstrate how much more important you think what you have to say is than what another has to say.

– Shel Harrington

One crucial way to convey our care for others is by making them feel heard. It’s pretty difficult for someone to feel heard when they can’t get a word in edgewise! Interruption is an interception – it shifts the spotlight from the original (rightful) speaker to the new (unrightful) speaker. When we cut someone off, steal their thunder, or finish their sentences by interjecting our own interpretation of their words, we are essentially silencing their voice and sending the message, “you don’t matter” (whether intentionally or unintentionally). Furthermore, interrupting places “me, myself, and I” on a self-exalted pedestal.

Humility is key to kicking the interrupting habit to the curb. The more honor we give to others, and the less attention we seek for ourselves, we will find it natural to give others the floor in conversation. Even secular conversational advisors recommend we speak only 20% of the time in group conversation, and 50% of the time in one-on-one discourse. Much more than that, and we will quickly become unsavory to those around us. You know what they say: we were made with two ears and only one mouth, so that we would listen twice as much as we talk.

Do you have too much self-importance? Don’t be that girl, interrupting. Cultivate a spirit of humility.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4

#2, some girls interrupt because they have…

To conquer oneself is the best and noblest victory; to be vanquished by one’s own nature is the worst and most ignoble defeat.

– Plato

Many interrupt because they don’t have an objective view of themselves. They don’t see themselves as others see them – rude, inconsiderate, and obnoxious. Instead of having a growth and improvement mindset, they simply plod through life doing what comes naturally, making the same old mistakes they always have. They will interrupt today, they will interrupt tomorrow, and they will interrupt decades from now – because they’re not making a conscious effort to level up their conversation skills.

Personal reflection is key to kicking the interrupting habit to the curb. We must constantly ask ourselves how we can improve…not from a place of self-deprecation, but of self-evaluation. We all have strengths to elevate and weaknesses to eliminate. If interruption is a weakness of yours, take careful note of it, and strive to make every conversation an improvement from the last. The more you bite your tongue, the easier it becomes. Self-improvement is a process…but as long as you do a little better with each occasion, you will find your weakness having less of a hold on you. Practice makes progress!

Do you have too little self-awareness? Don’t be that girl, interrupting. Cultivate a spirit of personal reflection.

The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. – Proverbs 14:8

In conclusion…

The bad habit of interrupting is most commonly caused by…

  1. Too Much Self-Importance, and/or 2. Too Little Self-Awareness

In order to nip interruption in the bud, we must get to the root of the matter. By internalizing a spirit of humility and personal reflection, we will soon transform into elegant ladies…characterized by our mindful gentility, superb etiquette, and kind consideration. Strive to be a lady, and don’t be that girl, interrupting.

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. – Proverbs 18:13

For God’s glory,
Mrs. Dustin Bolks

Chaste Bolks is a church of Christ preacher’s wife, and the home educating mother of two children. She and her family currently reside in Northwest Iowa.