Suggestions for women – and men – on what to do if interrupted
Barbara, you’re right. You can see the American men interrupt the American women on your TV shows that we get here.
This comment startled me.
One of my students made the observation during a women’s seminar in Kuwait some years ago. We had been discussing interrupting, and I had commented that men interrupt women more than they interrupt other men. I was surprised that this gender bias was so obvious – but I really shouldn’t have been.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Female Supreme Court Justices are interrupted more by male justices and advocates, found that male justices interrupted female justices about three times as often as they interrupted each other during oral arguments.
The research also found that “there is no point at which a woman is high-status enough not to be interrupted.”
When a woman is interrupted regularly (anyone can be interrupted occasionally), she is being excluded from the conversation and her contributions are being ignored. Her influence almost certainly is minimized as a result.
So, what should you do when you are interrupted? You don’t want to respond rudely, as your credibility may be hurt if you do. But, you do want to respond. Consider various ways in which you might respond so you will be prepared when the situation arises.
It is quite common for women to be interrupted, but men also may have this problem, so the options below apply to both genders:
- Continue speaking. If you do so, the person trying to interrupt you often will stop talking. You may need to raise your volume a little to make sure the person hears you, but don’t shout.
- Ask yourself: Are you making it easy for people to interrupt you? Do you speak too slowly, which allows others to jump in? Or, do you ask permission to add your comments? The article cited above noted that female justices often started their questioning with phrases such as “May I ask,” “Can I ask,” or “Sorry.” This kind of wording gave the other justices the opportunity to interrupt them. (Additional information on your communication style can be found in my new book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.)
- Say something to the person trying to interrupt. Try a polite but powerful response, such as: “I’ll get to that in a moment,” “Hold that thought,” “Excuse me – I wasn’t finished,” or “I’m still talking.” Deliver your line in a firm but neutral, not harsh, tone of voice.
- Wait until the interrupter has finished speaking. You can then say, “As I was saying…” Make sure this doesn’t sound sarcastic.
- Confront the person privately. If someone frequently interrupts you, talk to that person. Let him know that he has a tendency to interrupt you, and you want it to stop. The interrupter may not be aware of his (or her!) behavior.
- Let it go. People occasionally interrupt one another, and you can choose to let it go – this time.
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