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Remedies for Interruptions in Conversation


We have seen elsewhere (Interruption) that so-called inadvertent overlaps typically occur at potential transition relevance places (TRPs), i.e. those junctures at which the turn at talk could legitimately pass from one speaker to another. They often occur because one or more of the conversational participants anticipates an upcoming TRP where the speaker may not have intended there to be one. Alternatively, inadvertent overlaps may occur because more than one person in a conversation has attempted to self-select as the next speaker at an appropriate TRP but they unintentionally speak at the same time – therefore overlapping.

In contrast, so-called violative interruption is often viewed as a transgression of the rules of conversation, as they are typically produced at a point in the flow of conversation where there is no viable TRP slot available. Under such circumstances, conversational participants may be perceived as willfully violating the turn-taking rules of conversation.

Now, all of us, whatever our communicative competence, will have our talk overlapped from time to time. As discussed above, overlaps may be interpretable as either inadvertent overlaps or deliberate interruptions. When our talk is overlapped, there are a several options available to us. Some of these are listed below.

Dropping out

This strategy is uncomplicated; one simply drops out (i.e. stops speaking) and thereby relinquishes one’s claim to a turn at talk.

As an active choice by persons who do not exhibit communication difficulties this may feel like an appropriate option. However, for many people with communication difficulties, constantly dropping out can be extremely frustrating and may project an image of passivity. To combat this, I help persons with communication difficulties to use some or all of the following strategies.

Competitive allocation

If you are unwilling to drop out then you may need to engage in so-called competitive allocation to override the talk of the person who is overlapping/interrupting you and compete to retain your turn at talk. This can be achieved through one or all of the following:

  • increasing the loudness of your talk
  • slowing your rate of speech
  • lengthening vowel sounds in some words so as to give them additional emphasis
  • accompanying your talk with non-verbal gestures, such as raising a hand or a finger

These competitive techniques require both physical and cognitive speed and flexibility. As such, they may be difficult to implement by persons with particular types of communication difficulty. For example, people who stutter often find it difficult to control so-called paralinguistic features such as loudness and rate, as do people with Parkinson’s Disease. Also, owing to impairment of motor movements in Parkinson’s Disease, persons with this condition may find it difficult to incorporate non-verbal gestures into their talk.


In order to ensure that your message has been adequately transmitted and understood it may be necessary to recycle that part of the utterance that has been overlapped. The effect is to re-present the information that may have been obscured, and therefore unheard, because of the overlap.

Non-verbal gestures

These can be used on their own as a so-called holding device, e.g.

  • raising a hand
  • raising a finger
  • strengthening/maintaining eye contact
  • leaning forward

These non-verbal accompaniments serve to indicate to the person who is attempting to interrupt that you are not yet ready to relinquish your turn.


Using so-called subordinators such as the following, give the signal that ‘there is more to come’:

  • Because….
  • So….
  • This means….
  • This implies….
  • That suggests….

Subordinators are another example of a holding device. They indicate that there is more talk to follow and, as such, function to indicate that you are not yet ready to relinquish the floor.


A third example of a holding device is listing. This strategy uses constructions that signal you are about to provide several items in a list, e.g.

  • First…. (which implies that there will, at least, be a ‘second’)
  • There are three things to consider….
  • This can be answered in two parts….
  • Several things can be mentioned….
  • A number of issues can be raised….

In common with all holding devices, listing similarly signals that ‘there is more to follow’. As such, it is relevant that the listener(s) should wait until the list is completed before taking up a turn at talk.