Have you heard of the “Conversation Gap”? It turns out, quiet people should interrupt more. Don’t believe us? Learn the nuances of butting in, mindfully.
Interrupting’s damn rude. Everybody knows it.
The truth is, however, if you’re a quiet guy… that’s not always true. In fact, there are times when it’s rude not to interrupt! Here’s the step by step guide to walking the tightrope of butting in without butting heads, and how to crush it at work, with friends, and your soulmate!
It all starts with the Conversation Gap.
Understanding the “Conversation Gap”
Here’s a story you’ve been in countless times:
You meet someone at a friends party or out at drinks. They then talk non-stop for five minutes before deciding you’re ‘boring’ and walk off.
The truth is they just didn’t shut up long enough to let you open your mouth! Perhaps they were nervous, or they just talk faster than most; either way, the cause of the problem is having different conversation gaps.
This is the amount of time each person waits after someone else finishes talking, before they respond. For example, two quiet guys from the deep south leave a pause of 3-4 seconds after someone’s finished talking. Conversely, a couple of New Yorkers at a party feel like a game of “Who’s interrupting next” with a wait timer of -0.5 seconds!
The trick is working out what the other person’s Conversation Gap is and adjusting your style to match. This is easy to do in the first few minutes of meeting someone; simply count the number of seconds after you finish saying something before they share. You’ll quickly get a vibe of whether to take your usual approach or look for opportunities to butt in.
As a rule of thumb: If they’re a fast talker, and you’re not, then it’s time to go for it!
It’s going to feel weird at first, but if you master this, you’ll engage more with some of the key people in your life! There’s a trick to it though!
The Trick to Naturally ‘Butting in’
Interrupting is a conversation artform which requires reading the other person and waiting for the right moment. Never cut someone off mid-sentence. This is always rude.
Rather, if you’ve identified someone as a fast talker, they are expecting you to start talking as soon as they’ve finished. This means you need to interrupt halfway through the last word of a sentence:
This takes some practice, but means you’ll be responding when they expect you to. When you start to talk, there’s a short time between when you breathe in and when words come out:
Doing this means there’s still a gap between when they finish talking and you responding; you never actually interrupt the person at all—rather you respond in the way they’re used to.
This only works because of the difference in your respective communication styles. If they’re a normal communicator, don’t try this, as the gap won’t be enough.
Why not just let them talk?
Whether it’s at work, with friends, or that special someone in your life, you want to connect with people. You want engagement. You don’t want to be the boring guy who just listened and made no impact.
While most people can get away with letting others talk, chilled out guys who don’t talk much need to tweak the usual conversation rules of thumb, otherwise you risk not establishing yourself in people’s lives.
Here’s how to do this at work, with friends, and your soulmate:
In the Workplace
If you want to make an impact at work there’s a limit to how far technical skills will get you. You need to learn people and politics and eventually you’re going to get run over by someone, simply because they talk too fast.
Even though the problem is largely their own lack of interpersonal skills, it will be you who takes the hit in your career.
Example of how to CRUSH IT at meetings:
Imagine 2-3 other team members sitting around a table discussing the future of a project you’re on. You know how it’s going to go:
- Opinions firing back and forth faster than gunslingers at midday.
- When actions are dished out, it’s going to be you who gets them. People are usually trying to handball work; they’re talking, so they’re doing the handballing.
- You end up doing work you feel is sub-optimal since you didn’t have any input.
How do you break this vicious cycle? You use what you’re good at—thinking about stuff!
Do what you usually do in the first 5-10 minutes and just listen and think. This will allow you to formulate a good opinion that’s worth saying (and often a lot better than the extroverts who will have being spewing out the first thing that comes to mind). Then comes the critical part, where the meeting will move to the next topic and actions may be given out.
Now’s the time to butt in and sail your epic opinion home through a sea of discussion. You are going to need to start talking while one of your colleagues is finishing that last precious word of their sentence. It’s going to feel weird at first. You’re going to feel out of place. But it gives you the chance to contribute to the meeting and stand out as the one with a solution worth doing.
Unfortunately, it won’t stop them. As soon as you finish saying your crystal clear idea, someone’s going to fire back a response. Then someone else will butt in before you get a chance to clarify. You have to be prepared to do what feels like jamming your opinion in.
It’s going to take a few meetings before you find your feet, but your ideas will often be better than your colleagues simply because you took the time to formulate them. Get ready to crush it!
Chilling with Friends
Hanging out with mates is a totally different story! You don’t want to jam your opinion in, you’re not trying to make an impact; and you don’t want to risk being rude in order to learn the art of interrupting. Here’s the top tips that help with this:
- Make the conversation smaller: There’s probably 1-2 fast talkers at any social gathering who monopolize most the conversation. If there are six of you hanging out as a group, you’re just not going to get a word in. Instead, go sit next to someone who’s also not saying anything and start a side conversation. This isn’t anti-social since the people doing the talking are too busy chatting with each other to notice. This is an incredibly powerful part of Social Dynamics that makes friends fast—after all, the other person was also just sitting there quietly (bored).
- Find the Group Conversation Gap: In the same way that individuals have a Conversation Gap, so do groups. For example, if you’re hanging out with a bunch of other chilled people, and everyone naturally waits 1-2 seconds before sharing, adjust your style to match this. I’ve got a mate who waits 4-5 seconds before talking, so even in a chilled group he needs to shorten his gap!
- Be honest: your talkative friends are not evil, they just don’t know the impact they’re having. Tell them! Confronting a friend is a bold move, which scares the hell out of any of us, but chances are you’ll be better mates because of it!
In a Relationship
This one’s hard. Really hard! How you approach it depends on where you’re at in the relationship:
That First Conversation
If you’ve just met someone play it cool, but remember to use the first few minutes to identify their Conversation Gap..
When You’re on a Date
Congratz—you’ve made it past that first critical conversation and they’re going to meet you for a date night! Here’s the problem: staring at each other over dinner is more like an awkward interview than a romantic evening. The solution? Do something different!
The world is a creative playground of amazing experiences that are actually fun! If you choose one of these activities you’re already ahead because the smalltalk will already be flowing and the nerves will be lower. This way they won’t feel the need to talk all the time and you will be able to show how cool a guy you are!
Try a unique activity like:
- Adventurous: Geocaching is a real life treasure hunt that uses your phone as a compass. People have already hidden millions, all over the world, ready for you to find! This one totally gets the conversation flowing since working together, to find the loot, generates heaps of smalltalk for you to ‘interrupt’ with! If it’s a second or third date you can go all out and make your own treasure hunt which is an epic way to say you’re interested without even using words!
- Gamer: Head to an Arcade for an hour and do the physical games like whacking beavers with mallets or DDR. This totally lightens the mood, actually gives you something to talk about, and means you’re having fun rather than worrying about talking!
- Experience: Whisky, wine, or coffee appreciation makes for a fantastic night out. It’s not a cheap date but they can’t talk with stuff in their mouth which will give you time to share.
When You’re Long Term
If you’re going steady, and both have very different Conversation Gaps, you need to work on this. There’s NEED to work on this. This will require you both to change a fundamental approach to life (remember this is going to be a challenge!).
Here’s how you can do it:
- It’s a marathon not a sprint: Take the pressure off by understand it’s going to take a while to change.
- Tell them: explain the Conversation Gap concept to them. Seriously—they probably don’t know you actually have stuff to say. Be open and honest. It’s hard, but totally worth it!
- Choose a specific time to focus: When you only see someone for a few hours a week, like a friend or colleague, it’s pretty easy to actively focus on closing the Communication Gap. To make a long term relationship work, however, you’re going to need make it the new normal. The easiest way to learn this is to pick a time where you can actively focus on communication. Perhaps it’s when you’re out for coffee or over breakfast. It doesn’t matter what the scenario is, only that you use it as a trigger for “game on” mode and actively focus on developing communication.
It’s totally doable!
Conversation needs to be a two way street. By learning the art of the Conversation Gap you’ll make a bigger impact at work, make friends with people who would normally not notice you, and learn to connect with your soulmate in a whole new way.
Have a tip of your own? I’d love you to share it with the crew in the comments below! (I’ll wait 3-4 seconds before responding 😉