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Fed up of being interrupted? Why men talk over women in meetings, and what to do about it

Research shows women are interrupted or spoken 50% of the time while speaking in work meetings – and the culprits are usually men. Consultant and author Patricia Seabright explains how to deal with people who routinely talk over you.  

There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to get your voice heard in a work meeting – but every time you weigh in, someone cuts across you. If anything, this perennially thorny issue is made worse by the mass-move to work from home this year, and the hundreds of Zoom meetings that have popped up in its wake. 

Without access to a full roster of body language cues, it’s even harder to know when to pitch in; especially when there’s no limit on how many people can attend. If you’re not careful, you can spend an entire half-hour in blurts of “Can I just… ?” or “I was thinking…” without ever getting your point in.

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Unsurprisingly this is an issue that hits harder for women, too. A recent Women In The Workplace report by McKinsey and LeanIn.org found that women get interrupted 50% of the time in meetings; and 38% had experienced others taking credit for their ideas. 

Another study from the University of California showed that, in a series of recorded conversations, nearly 96% of interruptions took place as a result of men speaking over women.

“Men interrupt more partly because they feel they are entitled to, partly because they can and are used to getting away with it, and partly because of the style differences in communication,” public speaking consultant Patricia Seabright tells Stylist

“Men in professional settings tend to compete and women collaborate. When women communicate, they are much more about listening, collaboration and two-way communication, their interactions tend to be less combative and adversarial than men.”

Women are interrupted 50% of the time at work, research shows

The issue is so widespread that Patricia has written a new book, She Said!, to help millennial women to speak up and be heard in the way that they deserve. 

“Being routinely interrupted has certainly been my experience in the business world, and that of virtually all the women I interviewed for my book,” she says, adding that the effect is a “subtle but powerful silencing” of women’s voices. 

Here are Patricia’s top five tips to leverage your power in meetings, and push back against the patriarchy. 

1. Be direct

You can choose to just be very clear, confident and direct in the style so beautifully illustrated by Vice President elect Kamala Harris. In the VP televised debate when Mike Pence interrupted her, she just calmly but very directly responded, “Mr Vice President, I’m speaking”. Phrases like “let me finish” also fall into this category.

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2. Assert yourself

You could be assertive but a little less direct, with phrases like, “I’d appreciate the chance to finish my point” or “please let me finish my point”.

3. Try collaboration

Dealing with interruptions is particularly hard on Zoom

You could take a negotiation-style approach, and offer the interrupter a clear opportunity to get their point across when you’ve finished yours, for example, “Give me one more minute to finish my point, then I’m interested to hear your point of view.” 

In this collaborative spirit, you could also give them the benefit of the doubt, saying: “I’m sure you didn’t mean to interrupt me, so if I could finish my point, which was…”

4. Introduce humour

Humour can work well with something like, “Hold on, I haven’t got to the good bit yet!” or “just let me finish this point, as I haven’t reached my punchline!” Bear in mind, though, that this only works if humour is part of your normal style of speaking or conversation. Otherwise it can sound a bit forced or even sarcastic. 

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5. Push back with positivity

Another way into the interruption dilemma is to position someone else’s interruption in a positive light – while simultaneously pushing back. This would sound something like, “I’m glad you’re so eager to contribute but please do let me finish my thought.” Or, “Great that you are so passionate about this, but I just need to finish my point.”

She Said! features tips on dealing with interrupters

The important thing is not to allow yourself to be silenced. Don’t let go and not make the point or not share the idea that you were going to. It’s tempting to think it’s not worth struggling against the interrupters, and that you’ll find another way to make your point. 

This becomes an ingrained habit of silence and is a major reason why people continue to interrupt. So, take a moment to consider, what’s your chosen comeback to deal with the next person who speaks across you? 

She Said! A Guide For Millennial Women To Speaking And Being Heard by Patricia Seabright, published by Panoma Press, is out now.

Images: Getty, Alessia Armenise

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