Mental Health | How not listening becomes detrimental to our understanding

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Communication is the essence of human life and a bridge that connects us but only when it is done effectively and respectfully.

There is a mistake that almost all of us commit, either consciously or subconsciously, during our formal and informal conversations and that is the "interruption of speech": we interrupt others when they are talking and interject. 

We don't let others finish their statement. We close the floor for them before they could completely present and express what they intend to. It is not only highly disrespectful and frustrating to the speaker but it speaks about our lack of etiquettes and personality.

According to Sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West, socially dominating personality type people frequently interrupt others while speaking than those who are social and agreeable. 

Dr  Gary Chapman, an American marriage counsellor wrote in his book " The Five love languages,  that an average person doesn’t go more than seventeen seconds before interrupting the person talking. There is a famous quote by Stephen R covey' "People don't listen to understand. They listen to  reply. The collective monologue is everyone talking and no one listening”.  It happens in all forms of relationship be that personal or professional; vertical/horizontal.

However, it is important to remember that not all forms of interruptions are equally disrespectful and dominating.  Julia A Goldberg;  a renowned communication analyst highlighted three types of conversational interruptions:

1. Relationally Neutral Interruption: This is a form of speech interruption where the listener seeks to repair, repeat or clarify what the speaker just said. There is no implicit or explicit expression of dominance. This is somewhat tolerable and neutral but one should ensure that this doesn't affect the flow and train of thought of the speaker  and is not perceived negatively.

2.  Power interruption: This is the most toxic and serious form of speech interruption. Here a person interrupts the other in a hostile, disrespectful, uncaring and dominating way. It implicitly or explicitly shows dominance and power. It is an indirect way of connoting  to others that your views and words are not worth listening to.

For example, an employer who interrupts his employees while presenting their suggestions or feedback and closing the floor for them before they are done or stopping them before they could present the justification for their absenteeism or any mistake or a physician interrupting the patient while he/she is narrating the symptoms.

It is a very common form of interruption. Some physicians don't let the patient narrate their symptoms fully. They rudely and disrespectfully stop their patients or even a teacher can show power interruption when he/she stops the students before they can answer the question completely. 

It doesn't happen in vertical relationships only but in horizontal ones also where one dominating colleague interrupts the ideas of others to boastfully present his/her own.

3. Rapport Interruption:  This is a positive interruption, where the listener interrupts to empathize or to show that he/she agrees or to add on in a collaborative and cooperative manner. But to be perceived positively by the speaker, even rapport interruption needs to be done in a skilled way.

Research has been done to study speech interruption through gender perspective and males were found to interrupt females more  often while they speak to show their dominance. (Drass and Zimmerman).

This has been called "Manterrupting"(  an unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man ) by Jessica Bennet in 2015.  For instance, during political or academic debates, males interrupt females more often than vice versa. There are many reasons why people interrupt others.

Some interrupt others due to their impatience; they are impulsive, thus unable to wait for their turn; some people interrupt out of excitement; they found the topic interesting and start speaking while the ist speaker is yet to stop; some interrupt others due to lesser tolerance to the difference of opinions; or due to the anxiety that they may forget their point later.

We have the right to agree or disagree with others but they too have equal right to present their views and opinions, so we must deal patiently and respectfully with others.

We should avoid interrupting others when they are talking, even if demanded due to time or any other constraint;  It needs to be done in a skilled and dignified way. we shouldn't out rightly reject the views and perspectives of others even if we want to provide genuine feedback we should wait.

Besides, Interrupting others shouldn’t be justified under the rubric of power dynamics; in hierarchical relationships too, this needs to be avoided to have a greater understanding and a healthy relationship. There are cases where some higher ups listen to the rich and elite but shut the  poor ; this sort of interruption  must be avoided and both the parties should be given equal opportunity to present themselves.

There is an axiom thatEveryone can hear but not everyone can listen. Perhaps this is the reason that  we are bestowed with two ears but only one mouth .The more we listen, the more we learn; however, listening never means incorporating everything we hear.

Listening without interrupting others is the chief marker of a good parent, good spouse, good friend, and any good professional. We should listen to others with the presence of mind. We should always be mindful of the 3Es of Listening: Listening with engagement, Listening with emotions, and Listening with empathy. Lets conclude by the pearl of wisdom by MaulanaJalaluddin Rumi: “ Listen with ears of tolerance, See through the eyes of compassion, Speak with the Language of Love”.

The author is a research scholar.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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