"One at a time"

Sometimes this happens:

  • Five people are talking to you all at once
  • You can’t understand any of them
  • You say in exasperation “one at a time!”
  • And everyone pauses briefly then starts talking over each other again.

That’s really annoying. One reason it happens is that each person only has control over their own actions; they can’t unilaterally get the conversation back on track. No one wants to stop talking and risk not being listened to, so everyone just keeps talking in order to avoid losing their chance.

One thing that can help is to be explicit about what order you want things to happen in, so that people know they will get a turn and when it is their turn.

For instance:

  • “Guys, one at a time. Steve first. Steve, what are you saying?”

This doesn’t always work, but it works a lot more often than just telling people to stop talking over each other.