At one time or another, everyone gets interrupted while speaking. This is an annoyance that we must put up with in a free society. Sometimes, people cannot hear you and they mistakenly start to speak over you because they didn’t hear you. This, I can understand. But, there is another type of interruption that I simply cannot tolerate.
It is the type of interruption that occurs because I am speaking a language that is not understood by the person who is interrupting.
I’ve been around people speaking foreign languages for most of my life. I’ve understood from an early age that people who speak languages other than English are communicating nonetheless. I’ve also developed the patience required to wait for a person to stop speaking before I speak, even if I do not understand what they are saying. Even more patience is required if you are speaking through a translator.
Recently, I’ve found myself being interrupted more and more often by people who do not understand English. For example I will be speaking with my wife in English while another person grows impatient and just starts talking to her in Chinese, right over me. Normally I will cut that person off by saying (in Chinese) “Excuse me, but we were talking.” Sometimes this makes the point, but I am appalled at the times it does not. When people interrupt you on purpose, they are making a clear statement that they do not consider your conversation to be important. In muli-language environments this happens all too frequently. Just because someone is babbling on in (what sounds like to your ears) gibberish, we must be considerate and respectful of them. So, while I am ranting about being interrupted myself, I take care to make sure that I do not do that to anyone else. Sometimes though, a person may pause in conversation and we may mistakenly interpret that as a stop and end up talking over them as they resume. All you can do is excuse yourself.
One of the most frustrating examples of what I am talking about often happens when my wife and I are engaged in our profession. We will be at a factory discussing something with a Taiwanese boss who does not speak English. Hui-chen is an excellent technical translater and since there are many points that I am able to make better in English, she and I will often speak in English during such meetings. Usually I am making a point in response to a question or statement by the Taiwanese boss, and while in the midst of speaking, the boss will start a new line of conversation, completely ignoring the fact that I’m communicating with him and that he needs to shut the hell up and wait for me to finish. I find this kind of interruption incomprehensible and very hard to recover from as it usually requires me to start over from the beginning. But at least I know that the boss really isn’t interested in what I have to say, and that information is useful.
Please feel free to relate your own personal experiences with being interrupted as I’m sure we would all enjoying hearing them, as well as any practical suggestions on how to handle such situations.