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Women, Are You Tired of Being Interrupted by Men In Meetings? Let’s Stop That Now. (Part 2)

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Part 2-How to Prevent Interruption Midstream


Men speak to determine and achieve power and status. Women talk to determine and achieve connection. Given that in American society speaking is considered the power position, it is no wonder that men interrupt to take the floor more often.

Here are some of the techniques that I have used successfully in cutting off men who interrupted me while I was speaking.

1—Do Not Yield. Call Out the Man for Interrupting You.

Women, if you are interrupted, say to the interrupter, “There are a few more essential points I need to make. Can you delay a moment while I do that?” or “I know I will appreciate your feedback, but can you hold off until I’m done?” You can try to make the man feel like he is speaking prematurely with insufficient information by saying, “Hold on, I need to give you the full picture before you respond” or “You need to let me finish my thinking on this issue, I may have addressed your concerns or resolved them in a different way.”

If all else fails, cut to the chase and say “You’ll have a chance to speak but wait until I’m finished.” Or “Stop interrupting me and let me finish.” Or “I’ve listened to your views, now listen to mine.” Or “I’m not done speaking here.” Or “I’m sure you think your view is very important, but so is mine.”

2—Speak with Authority and Conviction.

Women should use empowering language that exudes confidence. Whatever you do, don’t apologize before you speak. The word “sorry” should be banished from your vocabulary. Do men ever say it before speaking?

Women sometimes preface their remarks with “in my opinion” or worse still “I’m not sure, but I think.” Don’t start out by caveating what you are about to say. If you discount what you’re about to say, good luck having the men take you seriously. Hedging conveys uncertainty, self-doubt, and the internalization of negative interactions.

3—Remember That Body Language Matters.

Use strategies that men already use. Sit at the table, point to someone, stand up, walk to the front of the room, place your hand on the table — whatever it takes. Not only do these high-power poses make you appear more authoritative, but they actually increase your testosterone levels – and thus, your confidence. Studies show that men tend to interrupt women more often when the women lean away, smile, and don’t look at the person they are speaking to. So look them in the eye, lean in, and take yourself seriously if you want to be heard.

4—Pay Attention to Your Speech Patterns.

Because of the gender differences in why people speak, men are more assertive, direct and succinct. Women tend to use more affirmative and engaging speech, relating experiences and emotions and using personal pronouns and intensive adverbs. This language is perceived as weak, unassertive, and tentative. Speak with assurance using words like ‘know’ instead of ‘believe,’ or ‘will’ instead of ‘might.’ Don’t be wishy-washy or timid. Use words with vitality. Be sure to use shorter sentences, so your breaths in between aren’t as long, making it harder to interrupt.

5—Stop Nodding and Agreeing.

When a women nods, it simply means, “Go on, I’m listening.” A man interprets the nods as assent, an agreement with whatever point he is making. Similarly, when a man lays down a marker by mentioning something he knows, it is an opening bid in establishing his status. A woman will acknowledge the man’s point, thinking that she will, in turn, be expected to share and a connection will be made. Not so. The man takes this as if it were offered by someone who thinks like him: a sign of submission to his higher status. Women’s politeness and social facilitation are misconstrued as indicators of male dominance.

6—Speak Up.

We speak up in a meeting, only to hear a man’s voice chime in louder. We pitch an idea, perhaps too uncertainly – only to have a man repeat it with authority. We may possess the skill, but he has the right vocal cords – which means we shut up, losing our confidence and the credit for the work. I’m not suggesting we all learn to speak in deep, booming voices. Simply speak firmly and with confidence.

7—Be Prepared to Deal with Pushback.

While women should expect their ideas to be challenged, their expectations should be commensurate with the level of challenge a man would also receive. Confidence should be rewarded and not given negative labels.

Remember in my last blog, when we saw that studies have determined that Justice Ginsburg and the other female justices were constantly interrupted by the male justices? Early in their tenure, female justices tended to frame questions politely, using prefatory words such as “May I ask,” “Can I ask,” “Excuse me,” or the advocate’s name. This provided an opportunity for a male justice to jump in before the speaker could get to the substance of her question. As female justices gained more experience on the Court, they started changing how they spoke, reducing their tendency to use this polite phrasing. The women justices, particularly Justice Ginsburg, now use more assertive and direct language to prevent male justices from butting in.

Women, we need to follow suit. At a meeting, we should eschew social politeness and any use of terms like “excuse me” or “I think.” We are going to call out interrupters, use empowering language, speak with conviction, make eye contact, avoid long pauses, and insist that we are heard. We will keep talking until we steamroll the interrupter.

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