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Uh, excuse me!

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[MetroCreative image]

QUESTION: When I talk in a group setting, I am constantly interrupted. It is annoying. Are people just so rude that they must take the conversation over, or do they just think of something they believe is interesting to say while someone else is talking? Is there a way to say “let me finish” and keep control of my story?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: Most interruptions should be welcomed. It means the listeners are enthusiastic about the subject you’re discussing. Most group style conversations are like this and, in my opinion, much more fun. However, you said you are constantly interrupted, which makes me wonder a few things: Are you saying the same story everyone has already heard? Or are you someone that is very long- winded? Long story short, let it go!

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: This is such a great question, and it happens all the time! I think people have a lot on their minds and do this because they are badly wanting to connect and relate with each other. To your point, sometimes, yes, instead of listening carefully to others, people do spend too much time thinking about what THEY want to say while someone else is talking. But I really do believe the interruptions most often happen because people are trying to relate to what you’re saying and let you know awkwardly they understand, care and are interested.

I think you can interrupt them right back and say something like “do you mind if I finish my story?” That serves as a good way to help someone recognize what they’re doing and be more mindful of an interruption. My children and I are good at doing this with me and with each other. (I love all of the talkers at my house.)

In general, though, when we are with a group of people, the conversation can flow quickly and get away from us. We can try to rein it in, step in on someone else’s behalf when their story gets interrupted or accept some of that messiness as part of the ebb and flow of getting together. In the end, though, all of us can and should do a better job practicing truly listening to each other.

HELEN’S ANSWER: When you begin your story, you might say, “this is a long story, but I’ll try to keep it short,” and stick to that. The people who are interrupting usually are trying to agree with you or jump in and tell their own story about the same thing. If there are several people in the group, it might be hard for everyone to hear, so they think they are adding to the conversation by bringing up something else. Just do your best to complete your thoughts and politely say “let me finish” if necessary.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Yvette Walker, assistant dean of student affairs at Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and journalism ethics teacher at the University of Oklahoma: This question is on point, particularly in our current season of Zoom meetings. I'll be honest and admit I do not know why people talk over each other. Historically, the most complaints have been about men interrupting women, and I still see that happening today. But it's amplified on Zoom, perhaps because of a video lag when one person starts talking and another person quickly follows, not having heard the first person yet.

If both people simply continue to talk until the other shuts up — in a verbal form of "chicken" — it can be uncomfortable for the other people in the room.

If the interrupted person tries to interrupt by saying, "excuse me, I was trying to say ...." it can feel pushy.

A better solution is a third party coming to the aid of the interrupted person, in person or virtually. "Excuse me, John, I think Jim was trying to say something." Be that person when you witness such interruptions. Maybe more people will take your lead and we'll have fewer interruptions.

Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is 40-plus, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email