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It's rude to butt in — even on the debate stage




Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)
Rick T. Wilking/AP

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The first presidential debate featured Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and a whole lot of this:

 

The Republican nominee interrupted Clinton 51 times: the former Secretary of State cut off her competitor 17 times. If you add the number of times moderator Lester Holt jumped in, Clinton was interrupted a total of 70 times, and Trump, 47.

When is interrupting okay? And if you're going to butt in, what's the best way to do it? If you're getting cut off, how should you respond? 

Take Two put that question to Amy Alkon, author of the book "Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck." 

Highlights

In general, what are the etiquette rules when it comes to interrupting someone? When — if ever — is it appropriate to do?

If there's a fire, this is a good thing. The thing is, when someone's talking, they have the floor, and you steal the floor. You're a robber if you interrupt them if you don't wait your turn and if you don't listen to them, which is actually part of a conversation. 

Sometimes people feel like interruptions aren't happening on a level playing field — and there's research to back this up. Folks have looked at speech patterns time and time again, and they've noticed that men interrupt women way more than women interrupt men. Let's look at this montage:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9soYj3O4Ud8

Any sense of what's behind the gender disparity? 

This comes out of sex differences and how men and women and boys and girls relate to each other. Boys are creatures of groups and hierarchy and competition, so they're used to competition, and they use speech in that way. Girls are in dyads — they're in twos. And they use speech to create intimacy, and they don't criticize each other as much because they're not competing like boys are.  When men and women talk, men expect to interrupt. Also, men coevoloved to expect women not to be as interrupt-y, so this is what causes the stuff you hear in that clip. 

Linguistic experts are quick to caution that some interruptions aren't necessarily a sign of dismissal. I had a fascinating conversation about this the other day with a friend from the east coast who said, 'people from New York, we just do this all the time.' Do you think there's any truth to that?

I do, and it has to do with excitement. You need to look at someone's motivation for why they're interrupting you. Are they trying to cut you off and steal the floor or are they just like that kid in class who's like, 'Oh, oh, oh, I have something to say!' And so that does make a difference. 

So do the rules change at all during a debate? 

No, it doesn't. There are times that you might want to do that, but it is rude, and it was wrong when they interrupt. They have their turn to speak, and it was just bad behavior anytime they interrupted. 

Press the blue play button above to hear the full interview. 

(Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.)