Do you recall those long gone days when taking turns was a serious priority, when small children were taught, coached, and cajoled with the edict, “We take turns?” This core social principle applied most everywhere and with most activities. Good children were polite, had good manners, and, of course, took turns.
The taking turns rule applied nowhere more than when interacting verbally with others. Teachers, parents, and adults more generally told us interrupting was rude and listening to more than one person at a time was not possible or was at least not something they could do.
The taking turns rule served us well until the advent of asynchronous communication. It has been around forever but when it showed up in the telephone, the simple orderliness of taking turns was doomed. At first, either you could talk or I could talk but quickly telephone technology allowed both of us to talk at the same time. It has been all down hill from there.
I blame it on the telephone since the alternative is to attribute our propensity for asynchronous communication to a major uptick in rudeness and bad manners. Whatever the cause, concurrent asynchronous communication (CAC) has become much more the norm than the exception. I don’t have any prevalence data but am sure it is so common we hardly notice. It usually doesn’t go so far as everyone talking at once but it comes close. Let me offer a tad more explanation.
Suppose three people are having a conversation. Tom talks while Dick and Mary listen attentively until Tom stops talking. Dick or Mary then talks (takes a turn). Dick and Mary may start talking at the same time; but if so, there are immediate, awkward “I’m sorries” and “Go aheads” and “No you firsts.” The awkwardness resolves with little delay and Dick or Mary assumes the talker position and the process repeats.
In this conversation, talking skills are important but listening skills are more important. Listening is so important communication experts write books and offer workshops to help improve listening skills. If you take time to consider what the experts say, you quickly learn they mostly say we should become better and more efficient listeners.
Becoming a better listener is a reasonable goal; but here is the problem. People don’t take turns talking these days. Mostly they talk asynchronously. They try finishing each others sentences, too impatient to let the person finish. The sentence finisher then becomes the talker, assuming the original talker acquiesces.
They talk over each other. Person “2” starts talking while person “1” is still talking. Either person “1” gives in or person “2” backs off. Either way, neither has much of a clue what the other said while they were both talking. It is a contest repeated over and over during their “conversation;” but neither seems to notice the competition.
There are many versions of CAC but let me toss out one more to suffice for now. “A” is talking and pauses to take a breath or to consider exactly what to say. “B” takes this small break in the flow to capture the talker position. Again, there is a tiny contest. Will “A” passively relinquish the talker position or talk over “B” to re–assume the position? There is no rule of thumb. It likely depends on whether “A” has enough energy or interest to pursue the contest.
We could bemoan the emergence of CAC and complain about how common it has become but it would still be more the norm than the exception. Better is to accept it and develop the skills needed to effectively participate in day to day conversations. The challenge is learning the new skills CAC requires since simply being a good listener and taking turns won’t cut it.
Here are the three primary skills you need to perfect to become proficient at CAC.
• Don’t be rude.
• Listen attentively.
• Take turns.
Are you surprised? Did you expect tips on concurrent asynchronous communication? Were you hoping for permission to be rude, for a waiver from taking turns? Sorry – no such luck. It still is as we were all told as young children.
• There is never a good excuse for bad manners.