Crossing The Threshold

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The Harshness of Interruptions

When I read this this essay by Nancy Kline of Time to Think I thought, ”YES!”

I’ll go further - I felt, “YES!”

Kline speaks, not mincing her words, of how interruption is an assault. In the first paragraph of the essay she says as much,

Interruption is assault.

She goes on to say,

There is violence in it. Interruption is a slice made into the guts of an as yet unfinished idea. Interruption is arrogance masquerading as efficiency; it is efficiency massacred. It stops the thinking of one person in favor of another. It is the politics of the aggressive laying waste to the brilliance of the respectful.

Her words laid bare for me everything that I felt when I am interrupted, but was afraid to verbalize. Her words contrast with the relative tameness of my choice of title for this article.

A colleague introduced me to Kline’s work because of my interest as an introvert and highly sensitive person in having space, specifically quiet space, to think and work. While Kline’s work is not specifically for quiet people, she is interested in creating environments where people can think, her arguments around being interrupted really resonated with me and I would imagine for all those who value quiet, focused time.

I work at my best when I am alone and in a quiet space, maybe with some soft music playing. At its best there is absolutely no one else present. Just me and the task at hand. In such an environment I can just drop in and focus on the job that I am doing.

When I know that someone else is present who might blurt something out at any moment - a question, a statement, just making conversation for the sake of it - my body and mind are on edge and it seeps into my ability to focus and concentrate, eating away at my capacity to get work done effectively. In one of her recent newsletters, Kendra Patterson shared some words that really resonated with me,

it’s not the loudness of sounds that bothers me, but the invasiveness of them

Loudness can bother me, but I also relate to the invasiveness of sound. Patterson linked to a scientific study on misphonia, a condition where people suffer an extreme sensitivity to and decreased tolerance for sound. I like the passage that Patterson picked up from the article,

people with misophonia feel in some way that sounds made by other people are intruding into their bodies, outside of their control. The results of the new study support the understanding that misphonia is not about having a negative reaction to sounds, but that hearing certain noises causes brain activity in the areas involved in creating that sound.

I have been known when someone makes their presence felt, and by that it might just mean a person stepping into the room that I am in, that I will get up and involve myself in other work elsewhere. Work that might need to be done, but which I’m not in the space to do in that moment. Regardless, I do so simply to give myself the mental and physical space.

I admire people who appear to get things done in the middle of complete chaos, but that is definitely not me. Though I still wonder what the quality of the work is that that person does, and if they could get much more done in a more quiet and focused environment (my sense is sometimes yes, and sometimes not)?

I have been called out before when I turn the music down or step out of a room because someone has entered, the implication always being that I am doing something wrong. At other times I have stayed put, gritted my teeth, and tried to proceed with my work - but I can feel the others’ presence in my body, and wait anxiously for the interruption.

Some might have the superpower of working with mayhem happening all around them? All power to them, but it is not my strength or, dare I say it, ability. This is also a superpower that I have absolutely no wish to try and cultivate. I am quite comfortable with who I am.

If like me you feel as though interruptions are an assault, I highly recommend reading Kline’s short essay. It could become your ally.