When conversations become a competition

Australia has a well-deserved reputation for being a very competitive nation on the world stage.

Perhaps it dates back to the days of the First Fleet when the ‘below-decks’ passengers might 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 and everything is strong.

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

Many of our radio and TV presenters seem hell-bent on just such a contest. They spit out as many words as they can as fast as they can – regardless of whether their audience understands them or not.

Even 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 the ‘hearer’ has actually heard and understood what was being said.

In the long-gone days of my childhood, we were taught – at home and at school – that it was rude to interrupt someone who was speaking! ‘Listen’ and ‘wait your turn’ were drummed into us. Not any more.

Watch and listen to a group conversation. See the body language of all the people who are waiting for the speaker to pause to inhale 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 in a telephone conversation with family members. From the number of times she pauses and the subject of the conversation changes I can, and do, assess how often she has been interrupted. I usually get tired of the game and stop counting before I reach 20.

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!

What sort of competition do they think they are winning?

Are you a good listener? Do you wait for the ‘right’ time to chime in? Do you think younger generations talk too much without listening?

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