In the latest uprising of people fighting for women’s rights, there are calls for equal pay in the workplace, a stop to gender-based harassment, and interestingly, a call for a change in communication behaviors including conversational turn taking.

In a conversation, each speaker has a turn. When there are more than a couple people involved, the ratio of turns to talk becomes less distributed. However, just as in a card game, each person has roughly the same ratio of turns to talk.

There is strong evidence for different degrees of uncivil speech behaviors. This is easily available from academic, journalistic, and anecdotal resources. You probably see it in conversations with the people among you. Maybe you have noticed you are an interrupter.


Unless the situation is serious, the consequences dire, don’t interrupt. When you interrupt, despite how great your point may be, it makes you look like a jerk. Your point can wait until it is your turn to speak, and if you listen, your ideas may tie in nicely with the point your conversational partner is making.

If you must interrupt, admit that you’re interrupting (either by apologizing or acknowledging). “Sorry to interrupt, but…” or “I’m going to have to interrupt you…”

Otherwise, wait your turn.

While you wait, listen to what the person is saying, while keeping in mind the comment you wanted to respond to. Here are some phrases that you can use to make a smooth transition between conversation turns:

To refer to something mentioned previously

Going back to what you said about [topic]…

You said [phrase or sentence]…

I want to return to [previous topic]

 When it comes to rules for behavior in conversations (i.e. turn-taking and eye contact), like other rules, you should follow them. Or break them in a way that you can own up to, hopefully with good intentions. The key here is being aware of your behavior in a conversation and its effect on others. In a conversation, it’s not worth it to interrupt. When someone is interrupted, they can become upset, feeling that their voice is not heard. If they’re upset, they’re likely to pay less attention to what the interrupter is saying. If we can all practice a little patience and use the right words to orient our listeners to the points we want to address, we can have successful conversations without upsetting the people we speak with.