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In conversation, do you tend to intervene before the other person has finished speaking? You could be a switch – or you could be what linguists call a “cooperative rider.”

Much like disruption, cooperative overlap may be seen as rude or dismissive in some contexts or in some people, but the intention behind the behavior is anything but. According to Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University and author, who first introduced the term, cooperative overlap occurs when the listener begins to speak with the speaker, not to cut him off, but rather to validate or show that he is engaged in what the other. the person said.

“I coined the term to distinguish this type of conversation, which encourages a speaker to continue, from interruption, where one listener begins to speak while another speaks to speak,” she said. at HuffPost. (She also uses terms like “enthusiastic listening” and “participatory listening” to illustrate this concept.)

A recent viral TikTok from @gaydhdgoddess – a Jewish ADHD writer and educator, according to her biography – has started an online discussion on cooperative overlap and how communication styles vary across groups and cultures. In the video, she calls herself an “interrupted person,” but says it was never much of a problem until she left the East Coast. After doing some research, she found that her tendency to intervene before the other person had finished speaking was actually part of a culturally Jewish conversational style common in the Northeast.

“You just overlap at the end of what someone is saying – you don’t try to cut them off because you don’t care what they have to say,” @gaydhdgoddess explained in the video. “You have already understood the basics and you are building on it. For us, in a good conversation, there is no pause. If there’s a pause, I think someone doesn’t want to talk to me anymore, unless they’re very visibly thinking or chewing or something like that. But for other people, other cultures, this is not the case.

Sarah Bunin Benor, pProfessor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Linguistics at Hebrew Union College, said the cooperative overlap is often associated with New York Jews, but is not limited to it.

“NOTJewish New Yorkers and Jews outside of New York also do it, ”she said.

In a 2008 survey by Benor into American Jewish speech patterns, she asked participants, “Have you ever been told that you interrupt too much or that your speech style is too aggressive?” Jews were more likely than non-Jews to respond “several times or” sometimes “(47% vs. 36%).

Although Tannen has not done any formal research to find out which cultures engage in cooperative overlap, people from diverse backgrounds told him they recognized him from their own upbringing, including those of Eastern European, Mediterranean, Indian, South American, African and Arab cultures, to name a few. “In every country, of course, there are many cultures, and not all of them have the same style,” she noted.

Among people who share the same style of communication, cooperative overlap often has the positive effect of “greasing rather than erasing the wheels of conversation,” Tannen wrote. However, among those who don’t, it tends to have the opposite effect. This can confuse the speaker, disrupt the flow of the conversation, and can be taken as a sign of disrespect.

“They often assume that whoever starts talking while they are talking is trying to speak,” Tannen said. “Often times they will stop and feel interrupted.”

“I coined the term to distinguish this type of conversation, which encourages a speaker to continue, from interruption, where one listener begins to speak while another speaks to speak.”

– Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University

Once you are aware that you are a cooperative rider, how can you communicate better with someone who is not? If you notice that the speaker is not responding well to your ringtone – for example, stops speaking or seems uncomfortable – try expressing your engagement non-verbally instead, such as by nodding, Tannen suggested. .

If you go for it, admit it. Then encourage the other person to keep talking.

“For example, if someone stops, [you] might say, “Please continue. I wasn’t trying to interrupt you, ”Tannen said. “If this is someone with whom you have an ongoing relationship, you can discuss it another time, perhaps referring to TikTok or Twitter comment that went viral – or to one of my articles. “

If you’re not a seasoned co-op but you talk to someone who is, you might want to ask them not to take the plunge so you don’t lose track of your thoughts. It will take a bit of practice, but try to push yourself to keep talking if you have more to say, even when your instinct is to stop, Tannen said. (Note that this can be difficult for some neurodiverse people, people with less assertive personality types, or in situations where there is an imbalance of power between the speaker and the listener.)

Context matters, of course. These differences in communication styles are easier to talk honestly about and work through with a close friend than with a boss, teacher, or mother-in-law, for example. And what may seem like an overlap in one scenario may be interpreted as an interruption in another.

Whatever the situation, learning to recognize and understand differences in conversation styles due to ethnicity, culture, class, gender or other factors can be beneficial, Tannen said.

“[It] gives you more control over how you meet others, gives you more chances to judge others accurately and allows you to have better relationships with those whose styles differ from yours, ”she said .


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