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Interruption

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English

An interruption in conversation happens when a listener breaks in, to interject, while a speaker is speaking. As a result of the listener's interjection, the speaker stops talking and the listener becomes a speaker.

Have you ever been interrupted? When someone interrupts, the listener forces the speaker to give up their role as speaker and become a listener.

Cooperative interruption vs competitive interruption

An interruption can be either cooperative or competitive. What's the difference between the two?

Cooperative interruption

Cooperative interruption happens when the listener feels the need to support or add to the speaker's point while managing not to disrupt the speaker's turn. In this case, the listener becomes a speaker for a short time through helpful remarks or quick questions.

EVELYN: It is very important that the temperature doesn't rise above 1.5 degrees so ...

MAYA: As is shown in the Special Report on Global Warming.

EVELYN: Yes, exactly. Thank you. So as long as we keep it below 1.5 degrees ..

Maya (the listener) interrupts Evelyn (the speaker) in order to support Evelyn's claim. This is an example of cooperative interruption because after Maya's interruption, Evelyn can continue talking about the same topic, with the new information that Maya has added to it.

Competitive interruption

Competitive interruption happens when the listener forcefully interjects and intends to continue talking. It's a conversation take-over.

In most conversations, the participants want to share something that is emotionally important to them. On other occasions, a listener feels an urgency to immediately learn a new piece of information from the speaker. Sometimes they can't wait until it is their turn to speak before they start talking about what is important to them. This results in an interruption that shows disregard for the speaker's turn, and disrupts the conversation.

MAYA: I don't know what to do. This has never happened to me before so I --

EVELYN: Yeah, it's happened to me though. Last year...

Maya (the speaker) is talking about an issue. Evelyn (the listener) doesn't let Maya finish her turn because she feels the urgent need to share a similar issue she has had. What Evelyn wants to share is emotionally significant to her, which prompts her to disregard Maya's conversational turn, and to disrupt the flow of the conversation by causing a competitive interruption.

What are the three types of interruption?

There are three types of interruption in conversation - relationally neutral interruption, power interruption and rapport interruption.

Relationally neutral interruption and rapport interruption are cooperative, whilst power interruption is competitive:

CooperativeCompetitive
Relationally neutral interruption Rapport interruptionPower interruption

Let's take a closer look.

Relationally neutral interruption

A relationally neutral interruption is caused by the listener's need to correct, repeat or further explain something that the speaker has mentioned. This type of interruption is cooperative because what the listener has to say is connected to the speaker's turn, and the listener's intention is not to take over from the speaker.

EVELYN: She was wearing a blue dress ..

MAYA: It was a purple dress.

EVELYN: Yes, you're right. Sorry, she was wearing a purple dress when we saw her ..

Maya (the listener) interrupts Evelyn (the speaker) in an attempt to correct inaccurate information. Evelyn is then free to continue with her story.

In relationally neutral interruptions the listener neither aims to build rapport with the speaker, nor to compete with the speaker, therefore these kinds of interruptions are neutral.

Power interruption

A power interruption occurs when the listener cuts off the speaker in an attempt to exert some sort of power over them. This type of interruption is competitive - it is an act of competition and confrontation on the listener's part that disrespects the speaker's turn.

Power interruptions are generally considered impolite, even rude. On some occasions, power interruptions can be quite hostile and can lead to conflict between conversation partners. When a listener forcefully takes the turn as speaker, they are saying that they don't respect the speaker's role in the conversation any longer. A power interruption is the most disruptive kind of interruption.

EVELYN: And the most interesting thing about dolphins is that they --

MAYA: Oh, who cares? I want to tell you guys about whales. They are infinitely more fascinating than stupid dolphins. Did you know that whales can..

Here, Maya (the listener) not only interrupts Evelyn (the speaker) but she doesn't add anything to what Evelyn was saying. Maya takes over as a speaker and changes the topic of conversation (from dolphins to whales); in this way, she disrupts the turn-taking sequence and dominates the conversation.

Report interruption

A report interruption conveys mutual agreement and understanding. This type of interruption is cooperative - when the listener interrupts the speaker it is to show that they agree with what the speaker is saying.

Rapport interruptions establish rapport between the listener and the speaker because they rely on a display of collaboration and reciprocity.

MAYA: I don't know what to do. This has never happened to me before so I just feel so helpless and ..

EVELYN: It's going to be fine. I know it's hard now but it will pass.

MAYA: Thank you. Deep down I know you're right but I just can't deal with it ..

EVELYN: Take a deep breath. I'm here for you.

Maya (the speaker) is talking about an issue she is dealing with. Evelyn (the listener) interrupts to show empathy. The rapport interruption doesn't disrupt the flow of the conversation because both participants stick to the original topic.

What are some reasons for interruptions?

Considering that interruption is not always negative and competitive but can often be cooperative, there are a number of valid reasons to interrupt. This includes the following:

1. To give information

Sometimes a listener may need to contribute by giving additional information that the speaker has missed. In order to do this effectively and in a polite manner, a listener uses sentences and phrases like:

  • Excuse me, could I just add something?
  • I apologize for the interruption but I just wanted to let you know that ..
  • Sorry to interrupt but if I could just tell you ...
  • Pardon me but did you know that ..

1. To ask a quick question

On some occasions, the need to pause the conversation arises from the listener needing some clarification or an explanation about something the speaker has said. In this case, the listener may interrupt the speaker to ask them a question:

  • I'm sorry to interrupt you but can I just ask ..
  • I apologize for the interruption but would you mind telling me ..
  • Sorry for the interruption but can you repeat ..
  • Could I jump in?
  • Do you mind if I quickly ask you something?

3. To share an opinion

Sometimes the listener feels the need to share their opinion or to mention something related to what the speaker is saying. If what the listener wants to say contributes to the conversational turn of the speaker, this is a cooperative interruption that doesn't disrupt the flow of communication. Sharing an opinion can be done by using these phrases:

  • What you're saying reminds me of ...
  • This makes me think of ..
  • I agree with your point. What you said is similar to what I was thinking ...

4. To join a conversation

In a situation where two or more people are already having a conversation and another person wants to join them, the new participant has to politely interject in order to establish themselves. They can do that by saying something like:

  • Would you mind if I joined?
  • If I may, could I just say ...
  • Sorry to interrupt but can I join you?

Overlap vs. Interruption

Interruption and overlap are two types of disruption. However, there is a distinct difference between them.

Overlap is when two or more speakers talk at the same time.

Unlike interruption, overlap is when a listener interrupts the speaker but the speaker doesn't stop talking, which results in two speakers speaking over each other. Interruption is when the listener forces a speaker to give up their role as speaker and become a listener; overlap is when there are two speakers (and sometimes no listeners) speaking at the same time.

Interruption - key takeaways

  • An interruption in conversation occurs when a listener breaks in while a speaker is having their turn. As a result of the listener's interjection, the speaker stops talking and the listener becomes the speaker.
  • Interruption can be either cooperative or competitive. Cooperative interruption adds value to the speaker, while competitive interruption disrupts it.
  • There are three types of interruption in conversation - Relationally neutral interruption, Power interruption, and Rapport interruption.
  • Relationally neutral interruption and rapport interruption are cooperative. Power interruption is competitive.
  • Some valid reasons for interruption include: giving information, asking a quick question, sharing an opinion, joining a conversation.
  • The difference between interruption and overlap is that, unlike interruption, overlap occurs when a listener interjects but the speaker doesn't stop talking, which results in two speakers talking over each other.

Interruption

An interruption in conversation occurs when a listener breaks in while a speaker is having their turn. As a result of the listener's interjection, the speaker stops talking and the listener becomes a speaker.


This is an example of interruption:


A: It is very important that the temperature doesn't rise above 1.5 degrees so ...

B: As is shown in the Special Report on Global Warming.

A: Yes, exactly. Thank you.


You can express an interruption by using polite phrases such as '' Sorry to interrupt '', '' I apologise for the interruption '' and '' If I may, could I just say .. ''.


The three types of interruption in conversation are relationally neutral interruption, power interruption and rapport interruption.


Interruption is when a listener interjects and takes the speaker's place, which results in the speaker not talking, but becoming a listener.


Overlap is when a listener interjects but the speaker doesn't stop talking, which results in two speakers talking at the same time.


Literary interruption is not the same as interruption in conversation. Literary interruption is called anacoluthon. Anacoluthon is a literary device that occurs when the expected grammatical structure of a sentence is interrupted by another sentence.


Final Interruption Quiz

Question

Is this an example of cooperative or competitive interruption?


A: So I told her ...

B: Let me tell you what I told her! I'm sure I handled this better than you.


Show answer

Answer

 

This is an example of competitive interruption.


Show question

Question

True or False:


Rapport interruption is competitive.

Show answer

Answer

False


Show question

Question

Which type of interruption is caused by the listener's need to correct, repeat or further explain something that the speaker has mentioned?


Show answer

Answer

 Relationally neutral interruption

Show question

Question

Which polite phrase would you use to interrupt someone so that you could join a conversation?


Show answer

Answer

Would you mind if I joined?

Show question

Question

What is the correct definition of power interruption?


Show answer

Answer

 

A type of interruption that occurs when the listener cuts off the speaker in an attempt to exert some sort of power over them


Show question

Question

Is this an example of a rapport interruption?


A: I arrived at the party at 5:30 pm and then ..

B: No, it was 6:30 pm when you arrived.


Show answer

Answer

No.

Show question

Question

Which of these DOES NOT describe a relationally neutral interruption?


Show answer

Answer

The most disruptive kind of interruption

Show question

Question

Is this an example of cooperative or competitive interruption?


A: I can do this, I just need to go over there and ..

B: Yes, you can do this! I'll go with you. 


Show answer

Answer

This is an example of cooperative interruption.


Show question

Question

Which type of interruption has the function to convey mutual agreement and understanding?


Show answer

Answer

Rapport interruption

Show question

Question

Which of these is an example of a relationally neutral interruption?


Show answer

Answer

 - It's only 30% ..

- Exactly 35% actually.


Show question

Question

Which polite phrase would you use to interrupt someone so that you could ask a quick question?


Show answer

Answer

I apologise for the interruption but would you mind telling me ..

Show question

Question

True or False: Power interruption is competitive.


Show answer

Answer

True.


Show question

Question

Which of these is NOT an example of a power interruption?


Show answer

Answer

 

- Our chocolate is made primarily of cocoa ..

- And, of course, our milk chocolate contains milk.


Show question

Question

An interruption happens when a listener _______ while a speaker is speaking.

Show answer

Answer

interjects

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


When an interruption occurs, the listener becomes a ________.

Show answer

Answer

Speaker

Show question

Question

When a listener interrupts, the speaker ____________.

Show answer

Answer

stops talking

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


An interruption can either be cooperative or _________.

Show answer

Answer

competitive

Show question

Question

True or false:


Interruption is a type of disruption.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Cooperative interruption happens when...

Show answer

Answer

The listener wants to support/add to the speaker's point

Show question

Question

Competitive interruption happens when...

Show answer

Answer

The listener forcefully interjects

Show question

Question

Power interruption is...

Show answer

Answer

competitive

Show question

Question

Relationally neutral interruption is...

Show answer

Answer

cooperative

Show question

Question

Which type of interruption is the most disruptive?

Show answer

Answer

Power interruption

Show question

Question

True or false:


Interruptions can only ever be negative.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or false?


Interruption occurs when there are two or more speakers talking at the same time.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

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