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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Just a quick question

You are taking a walk, or standing still, talking with another person. When is it OK for another person to walk up and interrupt the conversation? For how long is it OK for them to interrupt?

I have a couple of answers. If someone interrupts to say hello and then keeps moving, I'm OK with that.

If it's the boss interrupting and he wants to join the conversation for a sec., I may not be OK with it, but I'll deal.

If it's a buddy - a friend to BOTH parties - who interrupts and wants to join the conversation, I don't mind.

Otherwise, I think all other circumstances may be out of order - like when someone interrupts you mid sentence and begins an entirely new and lengthy conversation with the person you were talking to, and later walks away without so much as a word of acknowledgement to you.

Bad Burnettiquette.


  • I was going to say it's okay if the other person is black but that humor's wearing a bit thin....

    That's just rude. And then you sit there like a lump of shit. That's happened to me before. If it happens again, just walk away. If they don't need you, f-ck 'em.

    ONe older man once did that to me at a party and just wwanted to talk to my girlfriend. His plan was to completely ignore me standing there and just talk to her. I should have decked him.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:36 PM  

  • I'm with you Matt: it is beyond annoying when someone tries to 'bow their way into your conversation, only to get a shot at wowing your woman. Soooo annoying. Funny thing, it always seems to be dudes trying to screw over each other. I hardly ever hear of a woman out with her man, when another woman approaches, interrupts the conversation and tries to push up on the guy.

    Why do guys do this to each other?

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:53 PM  

  • Definitely rude. I don't always think it's worth interrupting to say hello - a smile, nod or wave is perfectly acceptible if you're obviously deep in conversation.

    I used to work in a place where people would be offended if you were talking to someone while walking, passed another person and did not interrupt your conversation to say hello to them - even if you didn't work directly with them! I'm all for friendly, but it's not unfriendly to be focused on discussing (or doing) your work at work!

    I work in a lab, and a lot of sales reps and delivery people come by. Most folks who deliver things to a lab know that if someone is hunched over their bench, iPod in their ears, gloved, with 100 tiny tubes in front of them that that person is likely busy. But you would not believe how many people will just come in and start talking without even asking if they're interrupting. It's tough, too, because you can easily lose your place if you have a lot of tubes, and some things are time dependent.

    Back to your original post, though - it is extremely rude to interrupt, initiate a different conversation, and not acknowledge the other person (unless it is an emergency and/or super fast).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:54 PM  

  • I just saw the comments about guys competing with guys. I've had men do that to me before, and I usually give a fakey smile and return back to the guy I was originally talking to. I don't find that kind of aggressive crap endearing or attractive, it's just childish.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:56 PM  

  • I'm learning that everything I do is wrong, according to this web site..

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:01 PM  

  • C'mon Winter. Now I'm gonna feel bad. I know I don't know you, but I've read the civil tone in your posts. So there's no way I believe you're someone who obliviously interrupts. You don't seem/read like that person.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 3:48 PM  

  • I work with a compulsive Blurter. Do you have any idea how many times I have wanted to kill if not at least Maim that person?

    By Anonymous Whatta Crock, at 4:48 PM  

  • I think that's about the time you give them a judo chop to the loins.

    By Blogger The Dummy, at 5:35 PM  

  • Some feel if their relative importance is greater than the person with whom you're speaking, they're justified in intercepting your conversation. These people need sensitivity training. A good boss or otherwise VIP will be more diplomatic.

    Here's what I try to do. If I need to briefly draw away a colleague immersed in conversation, I'll start by "making my presence known" by standing off to one side of the pair, keeping an eye on the target of my query so that both know who I need.

    Then I'll wait for that person to acknowledge my presence, which they will usually do within about 20-30 seconds. They'll look up, like, "Can I help you?"

    I'll then say, "Excuse me, but can you tell me (whatever.)" Or if I know my converse will need to be longer than a few seconds, I'll say, "Can you come and find me when you've got a minute?" They'll know it's important if I have gone through the trouble of interrupting them.

    Then I might turn to the stranger and say to them, "Thanks. Sorry for the intrusion," and walk off. Total intervention time, less than a minute. I take it the experience that drew this post went differently?

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 5:37 PM  

  • Yeah Sarc, it was personal. Not one incident though. It happens all the time. And I'm not griping that it's just with me. I observe it all the time with other people - two folks engaged in conversation, a third party approaches and strikes up a new chat with one party while totally ignoring the other, and then walks away without so much as a "sorry, for breaking in like that." People interrupt like this so smoothly and effortlessly. I'm not depressed about it, but it is annoying.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 5:45 PM  

  • wow...I actually had something similar happen to me yesterday in lab...I was chatting with this cute guy in another class...and this girl I know (who is annoying as all getout..) butts in and starts talking to him and trying to take control of the situation! I wanted to slap the little wench. Back off!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:46 PM  

  • Well, unless the building is on fire or some such, it wouldn't be polite in the least. Women learn early to be less direct in their approach since it's not considered ladylike to deck someone. It does seem like your friend should be the one to say something to the interrupter though. They are being equally rude allowing the conversation to continue while you stand there. Do not get me started about call waiting either.

    By Blogger wordsonwater, at 7:05 PM  

  • I have no manners. Seriously, it's not like they were talking about anything interesting before I walked up. Everything I say is fascinating.

    By Blogger mist1, at 8:32 PM  

  • hmmm can't say I have noticed this phenomenon happening all that much,,,,,,wonder if that means I'M the insensitive pushy bastard?!

    Working in the restaurant biz though, I DO see all the time when people will try to literally interupt me while I am talking to another table(taking orders and such). I generally and very stubbornly refuse to even acknowledge them till I am done with the first.

    The one that drives me nutty is A) when I am on the phone or B)counting.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:25 AM  

  • I'm an admitter interrupter. If I need to talk to someone (like, at work, or something time sensitive), then I totally interrupt. I'm extremely apologetic and acknowledge everyone and the fact that I'm interrupting - but I interrupt. I don't do it randomly or unless I have an actual need, but I do it.

    By Blogger Tere, at 2:01 PM  

  • I will admit that if the interrupter pulls out a gun, I'll let them break in and speak.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 4:59 PM  

  • I just got chewed out by two ladies from my office about this exact issue.

    I was speaking with one of the ladies when the other entered the room. I thought I had visually acknowledged the second one without interupting the conversation with the first (just eye contact and a nod) when that person paused, turned to face the lady behind her and said HELLO and then turned back to me and asked why I hadn't spoken to the second lady. At this point, Both are looking at me as if I'm a cad so I attempt to explain that I had acknowledged the presence of someone else but I attempted to remain focused on the conversation I was already engaged in. To no avail. After the second person had left the room, I attempted to continue the conversation but all the focus was lost.

    Later I tracked down the second person and apologized if I seemed rude and didn't appear to acknowledge her but she was already offended and not willing to accept it.

    Lesson learned...

    By Blogger Rodney, at 1:15 PM  

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