Interruption or Interjection?

Deborah Tannen writes in the New York Times about interruptions. She’s riffing on this week’s presidential debate but I thought this part was relevant to interviewing:

You might think it’s obvious that an interruption is when a second person starts talking before another has stopped. But how long a pause means “I’m done” rather than “I’m catching my breath”? This, too, varies by region and culture – and the difference can lead to unintended interruptions. In 1978, I tape-recorded a Thanksgiving dinner conversation involving two Christians raised in California, three Jews of Eastern European ancestry from New York and a British woman. At times the Californians felt interrupted when their Jewish friends mistook a pause for breath as a turn-relinquishing one. At other times, exclamations like “Wow!” or “That’s impossible!” which were intended to encourage the conversation, stopped it instead. An interruption takes two – one to start, the other to stop. The New Yorkers in my study assumed that a speaker who wasn’t finished wouldn’t stop just because someone else started. If she does, then she creates the interruption.

In my book I look at interruptions and turn-taking in interviews. If someone is going on and on and we need to redirect them, how to do so elegantly? If we are having trouble not talking over someone, what are the sources of those missed pauses and cues? Tannen’s exploration of interruption is useful fodder for thinking about this.


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