Monday, June 26, 2017


It’s sometimes hard to enter a discussion when others are speaking quickly and fluently, and with passion. As we discussed last time, taking a cue from basketball will help you jump into the game.

This is a problem for anyone who is uncertain of their English fluency, and a particular challenge for those whose cultures value silence between thoughts and discourage interrupting. That would include East and Southeast Asian people, as well as submissive personalities, women and younger people from hierarchical cultures.

So how do you practice the “moves” you’ll need for this variation of conversational basketball?
First, recognize that in American culture, interjecting your comments is not interrupting, but rather should be viewed as appropriate engagement with others.

Second, use gestures and other non-verbal skills to signal your desire to say something. Try several of these:
  • Fix your eyes (maybe raising your eyebrows too) on the current speaker and hold them there until you are acknowledged.
  • Open your hands, move them forward to draw attention.
  • Raise one index finger slightly (but do not “point” the finger too strongly).
  • Lean in toward the speaker and the group, either bending forward if seated, or shifting a foot forward and a shoulder discretely into the group if standing.

And finally, to jump into the conversation but still give yourself a moment to gather your words into a smooth form, lead off with such pat phrases as: Just to clarify for a moment…Sorry, I’d like to mention that…One second before we go on…If I may, there’s an important consideration here…Let me add one thing here, please…etc.

Such phrases should be short and introductory; otherwise, you actually might seem to be interrupting. Lead-in remarks are exactly that, entrees to the comments you want to make in detail. You need first to signal your intention to speak, and only then, when you are noticed (and “have the basketball”), can you add your meaningful content.