How bad is it to perpetually bite your tongue, anyway?

Content warning for mild self-harm and foul language.

Where's the book on interruptions?

Some time ago, I sought region-specific conversation pacing and etiquette documentation. I searched using phrases like 'interrupting culture", "positive interrupting", "where is interrupting rude", "New York conversation style", and "San Fernando Valley speech conversation pattern". I eventually found something that gave a name to exactly what I'd been wrestling with.

"Cooperative overlapping — talking as another person continues to speak — is typical of Jewish conversational style... and can be a way of showing interest and appreciation." - J. Weekly

I think it was this J. Weekly article from May of 2000, and it's worth a read.

Cooperative overlapping is a good thing!

I moved to Silicon Valley in 2011. I started working directly with an engineering team that had a fairly awful reputation. I got along with them splendidly. Others said the group was mean, rude, and hard to work with. I found them enthusiastic and honest. I never received an email 20 minutes after a meeting disagreeing with the direction decided (normalized on some other teams). I got real-time conversations in meetings with them. Everyone spoke and was encouraged to speak. On the rare occasion someone was quiet, it was customary to pull them in with an encouraging "----, what do you think?". With other teams - the dynamic was one person talking to a mostly-distracted room. I excelled working with the bad-reputation team. In retrospect, there's a good chance that this was related to the team being primarily South Asian-based and at home with cooperative overlap or something similar.

Cooperative overlapping is not a good thing.

A few jobs later, I received repeated compliments for gaining command or leadership of situations far above my pay grade. Someone said my aggression in meetings was setting an excellent example for other women on the team. I was horrified. I had no clue why this was the perception. It hadn't been intentional. After several coffee chats, I realized cooperative overlapping was the root cause and that it was othering me in a way that I wasn't comfortable with. I started working extraordinarily hard, trying to change everything about how I participated in conversations at work. I watched others. I tried counting to three at any silence before speaking. Ultimately, the only thing that worked was literally biting my tongue.

In 2019, at a 9:30 am meeting, a coworker was explaining something, and in positive acknowledgment, I said something like, "that's absolutely it.". Their response was to look at me and say, "Would you stop fucking interrupting!?". Saying what I said at that moment had been an involuntary smile or a head nod in agreement. I hadn't thought about it more than I'd have thought about a blink. Worse, (judging from the response) I'd made this mistake before. It felt awful. Like I had just been an over-excited puppy slobbering on someone allergic to everything about dogs. I had grown comfortable with the people in the meeting, and I hadn't been biting my tongue.

I don't want to rely on my teeth.

Somewhere in 2019 I also spent a week in New York. I felt so uncharacteristically happy there. Socializing with others and reading a room felt effortless. I didn't have my usual constant doubt. I didn't think a single "This person doesn't like me", "I need to shut up", or "they have zero interest" the whole week. I realized it was because others were talking with me. I had the equivalent of behind-the-ear scritches. I received constant positive feedback and encouragement throughout the conversation in my brain's native language. I felt comfortable and confident in every exchange.

I don't want to live in Silicon Valley forever – I rarely get that homey feeling in conversations here. Realistically, I am going to live in Silicon Valley forever. I don't know what the solution is. I try extra hard when I meet someone new to suppress my excitement in discussions; I still hold my tongue between my teeth (There's actually a sorta gross dent in my tongue that's always a little sore as a result). I still forget to hold my tongue when I get more comfortable with someone.

Consider this an ask and an invitation - tell me how you'd like me to communicate with you, and understand that I'll try my best. Similarly, please know that I want to lose the sore spot someday, and you can talk with and over me any time.