When did conversations become a competition?

Australia has a global and well-deserved reputation for being a very competitive nation. Perhaps it goes back to the days of the First Fleet when the ‘below-decks’ passengers might well have thought, ‘Just wait until we get out of here, we’ll show you’.

Certainly, the insatiable Aussie urge to ‘beat the Poms’ at anything goes back a long way.

Whatever its genesis, this competitive urge has morphed into a situation where everyday conversation seems to be a winner-takes-all contest.

Our radio and TV presenters seem hell-bent on fostering this contest. They spit out as many words as they can as fast as they can – regardless of whether their audience understands them or not.

Everyday conversations have become a seriously competitive business. Participants try to spit out as many words as possible before they’re interrupted. Little attention is given to whether other parties have actually heard and understood what is being said.

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In the days of my childhood we were taught – at home and in school – that it was rude to interrupt someone who was speaking. We were constantly reminded to ‘listen’ and ‘wait your turn’. Not any more.

Watch and listen to a group conversation. See the body language of the people who are waiting for the speaker to pause to breathe before leaping in themselves. Quite often, the new speaker’s subject bears little or no relationship to that of the previous speaker.

Without actually eavesdropping, I frequently hear my partner on telephone conversations with family members. From the number of times she pauses and the subject of the conversation changes, I can, and do, assess the number of times she has been interrupted. I usually get tired of the game and stop counting when I reach 20. And this happens time after time.

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I am profoundly deaf, but am regarded as a ‘good and interesting person to talk with’ because I look the speaker in the face, nod frequently and smile a little when I think it might be appropriate. None of them seem to realise that, if they were to speak clearly and much more slowly, I might understand one word in six that they are speaking.

What sort of competition do they think they are winning?

Do you know people who talk but rarely listen? Does that have anything to do with age? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Peter Leith



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