top of page
  • Writer's pictureNancy Sokol Green

Why Interrupting Isn’t Rude

Interrupting is often linked to a disorganized brain.

Interrupting actually makes sense when we understand what goes on in a person’s brain if he or she has incomplete lower brain development.

Namely, such people’s cortex is already preoccupied with seeking ways to compensate for automatic brain functions that we’d ordinarily acquire if that development were complete. But it’s not, so such people end up with what we call a disorganized brain, where some parts aren’t doing their job while other parts are trying to pick up the slack.

With all that chaos going on, working memory is going to be impaired—which then specifically explains why someone with incomplete lower brain development may be prone to interrupting.

That’s because working memory is an active part of our memory system. It helps us keep information in mind while engaged in something else—and that requires a little memory juggling. But recall, a person with incomplete lower brain development is already juggling a lot as a result of having a disorganized brain.

Whether or not people realize they have incomplete lower brain development (and, therefore, have less working memory “bandwidth”), they know, via experience, thoughts are often lost if not shared immediately.

That knowledge is then compounded by an on-going angst that’s also common among those with incomplete lower brain development. In other words, not only do they know such thoughts will be gone, but they also start to feel anxious if they have to wait to speak.

So what’s the quickest way for such people to keep a thought and forego the angst? Interrupt! Yet, that’s not really a great plan since such action ultimately ends up irritating and annoying others.

But instead of getting upset with people we view as chronic interrupters, maybe we alter what we do, rather than hope they’ll just suddenly change. With that mindset, here are some ideas.

  1. We don’t give speeches or tell long stories or give lengthy directions. Instead, we say no more than a sentence or two, and then we pause. In other words, we create openings for those who have difficulty keeping thoughts in working memory so they can now jump in without interrupting.

  2. We establish when someone can and cannot interrupt us. For example, when interacting with kids, we create a list (laced with humor) to underscore that only extreme emergencies warrant an interruption during specific times. Such a list may be: You can interrupt me if your pants are on fire, if there is a boa constrictor in the room, or aliens are about to abduct you. For everything else, you must wait.

  3. We might additionally help such kids by adding a visual or tactile cue that reminds them when they cannot interrupt. For example, we may wear an outrageous hat that signifies no one can approach us so long as we have that hat on. Something like that works well when teachers are interacting with a group of students in one part of the room and do not want to be interrupted by those working at their seat. Or, we can establish that someone only speaks if he or she is holding a special stone when people are offering ideas during a discussion.

  4. We teach people simple proprioceptive movements they might do while waiting to speak since such stimuli is calming (and, therefore, reduces any potential angst that may surface when waiting to speak). Such actions may include squeezing hands, crossing arms and pressing the hands on thighs, and interlacing fingers and pushing them down on top of the head.

  5. We can teach people to write (or draw a picture of) the thought they’re holding. That not only helps them remember what they wanted to say, but it also gives them something to do while waiting.

With the above in mind, here’s something to ponder. If the dictionary defines rude as “showing no respect or consideration,” maybe—just maybe—we’re the ones being rude if we don’t initiate simple actions that clearly help people with a disorganized brain.


bottom of page