Thursday, October 1, 2009

Getting Interrupted At A Dinner Party (And Having Other People Notice)

It's a very awkward moment when someone (perhaps you) is beginning to say something and then for one reason or another, keeps getting interrupted, ignored, or simply not heard. Let's say you're at a dinner table with 8 other people and you're all going around telling stories and whatnot (with basically one conversation going amongst the entire table). Then you suddenly come up with your two cents and say something like (trying to sound cool and natural as if you don't care how well what you're about to say is received), "you know it's funny I-" but before you can finish you are interrupted. This is not in some overly rude way; the loud story-topping person who interrupted you from across the table didn't hear you when he began to speak. 

Perhaps the person who interrupted you just says something brief like "yeah I still have trouble believing that he got past those security guards..." (or whathaveyou) so you don't have to wait 3 minutes to speak or give up on speaking altogether, which might be the case if he had told a new story of his own. So after he makes his remarks you try to get the group's attention again by saying, "you know it's funny I-" OW. Interrupted again by someone across the table. Now the two people to your left and right have definitely noticed you trying to speak and failing to get people's attention (both times). And you know they've seen it which makes it awkward for everyone involved. And it's almost worse if the person who interrupts you  tells a long story because then the whole time you're listening you're self-consciously thinking how it should be you telling the funny follow-up story and you just got rejected and the people next to you saw it and are probably thinking about it too.

Also consider the lead-in line (in this case "you know it's funny I-"). When trying to get the table's attention the second time, it seems like you're trapped. If you use the same line ("you know it's funny I-") then the people who heard you the first time and hear you again must be cringing watching you unsuccessfully trying to get the group's attention a second time, using the exact same line. The whole point in a line like "you know it's funny I-" is it's supposed to be a natural filler that just kind of comes out as you're about to tell a story/make a comment- not some kind of premeditated thing that you've rehearsed in your head before saying. So clearly, when trying to get the table's attention the second time, you must change your lead-in line to make it sound casual and natural, not methodical and rehearsed. Not so fast though. 

Let's say you change your line to "One thing I've noticed-". Now how much more of an awkwardizer do the people next to you think you are when they hear you trying to switch up your lead-in line with the desperate hope that maybe people will listen to you if you change the wording of your pointless filler statement. Either option comes across as very forced and premeditated (because in such a situation the person attempting to speak is always self-conscious of whether or not the people next to him noticed him trying to speak and therefore he is thinking about when and how to get the group's attention very consciously). It's a pretty sticky moment to get out of and sometimes the better option is to just give up on your story/commentary to avoid getting shutdown again. 

(This whole notion of getting shutdown is strange because obviously no one is being overtly rude or inconsiderate to you: it's just an unfortunate timing issue that the interrupter probably doesn't even notice. Because it's completely accidental, unlike someone intentionally interrupting you to speak over you, it makes you feel self absorbed/petty for caring about it or making a big deal out of it which is why most of us timidly wait for our next opportunity to speak.)

This situation is awkward even if you're not the person who gets cut off- it's almost equally awkward to be the person next to the guy getting interrupted. It's basically like this: you see it happen, he knows you saw it, and yet neither of you acknowledge it. Even if you want to be a nice guy who's willing to listen, it only makes matters worse to say to him, "hey I'm listening if you want to tell your story to me" because that will just embarrass him further because he will be admitting defeat and conceding the fact that he got rejected by the table- no one wants to be pitied in a situation like that. Also, it is most likely his story or comment was intended to be told to the whole table (with that fun revelry and laughter), not just you. And so if you offer him a listening ear, he might decline and say, "oh well I want to tell the whole story hang on one sec" (then look like he's about to get the whole table's attention with his mouth open with an anticipating, I'm-about-to-talk-mode). Then you are basically watching him try to get the group's attention a second or even third time (which, judging from the interrupting meat-head across the table and this guy's overall lack of charisma, will take a while).

A situation that's slightly different but basically the same idea is when you say hi to someone you know (say, whose back is turned to you) and they don't hear you and there's a third party who saw all of this happen. Some of us prefer to make some sort of cheesy quip to the third party such as, "i guess she didn't hear me!" but others (like me) prefer to yell at the person until we get their attention and thus feeling like we've won some sort of game or at least the third party doesn't think we're a crazy person who says hi to people who ignore us.