What makes a good conversation? Wait versus Interrupting Cultures

What makes a good conversation? Wait versus Interrupting Cultures

The rules of conversation in any culture are not explicit: they are assumed knowledge and no one thinks of questioning them…unless, you’re new to a culture and can’t work out why everyone is being so rude!

One way of describing the differences in the art of good conversation in cultures is the difference between WAIT versus INTERRUPT cultures.

WAIT cultures will expect one person to speak at a time. There is an assumption that after Person 1 has said their piece, there will be a pause for Person 2 to speak, after which Person 1 can reply and so on. Any interruptions to a person’s presentation or flow is considered rude.

Image source: Pexels

INTERRUPT cultures, unsurprisingly, are the opposite of WAIT. If Person 1 is speaking and Person 2 has an opinion, idea, comment or suggestion to make, they will jump right in and start talking. This is a way of making good conversation, of keeping things going. Silences are taken as a sign of boredom or disinterest – again, this can be perceived as being rude.

I was part of an interesting conversation recently where the majority of people were from a WAIT culture, and only a couple of people were from an INTERRUPT culture. I could feel the tension in the room rising, as whenever a WAIT person started offering a thought on the topic, an INTERRUPT person would interrupt and add on or take the conversation in a different direction. It was clear the WAIT people were starting to think the INTERRUPT person was rude – but the INTERRUPT person wasn’t picking up on it – they just thought we were having a very entertaining time!

I think this factor is a really important one to be aware of, especially in the workplace or when having important discussions on emotive topics. Once you explain this concept to people, it’s amazing how much it can ease any tension or misconceptions about each other. You can then explore the advantages and disadvantages of both (in a conversation haha). Some questions worth exploring are:

  • how do we ensure everyone is heard and all ideas are put forward? (hard for “interrupt” cultures)
  • how do you make sure one person doesn’t control the conversation? (hard for “wait” cultures)
  • how do we feel comfortable with silences? (hard for “interrupt” cultures)
  • how do you deal with interruptions in the middle of a presentation? (hard for “wait” cultures)

Can you think of situations where you’ve experiences this? If not, keep an eye out for it next time there’s a mix of cultures in a room.


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