I am so tired of being interrupted.
The other day, I was in a meeting with two male colleagues, who, if you asked them, would tell you that they are passionate supporters of women and male feminists and whathaveyou. I have no doubt that they really believe it and, to be honest, they are not bad guys.
But boy do they love to talk. LUUUUUUUUUV to talk. If the act of talking had a body, they’d be up in its orifices 24/7.
It was hard to get a word in edgewise. If I managed to start speaking, I would immediately get talked over.
The thing is, when I constantly have to fight to say something, if I am constantly getting interrupted, I become physically exhausted, as if I’d just been running.
At some point I leaned back, crossed my arms, and stopped talking altogether. I don’t think they noticed at all.
Sorry, men, but so many of you can be so fuckin’ exhausting so much of the time.
A self-described “male feminist” colleague has casually admitted to messing with a woman’s performance review as part of a political chess match with a dude.
YES!!! I would write more words of agreement in response to your essay, but I’m already too exhausted from being talked over all day.
I was in a meeting last week – all women and one man. The one man talked over me constantly, negated all of my ideas, and then presented my ideas as his own. Within the span of one meeting. He is a women’s health researcher (as am I) because he was “raised by women” and “completely understands women.”
In contrast, I have a female friend who constantly keeps talking until you talk over her enough that she hears you. I’m not sure how to categorize this, but it’s also exhausting.
I have gotten bitched out by senior male colleagues who interrupt me for interrupting them. (Usually when they say something factually incorrect after having bloviated for 10s of minutes.) Sadly one of these men is now the dean. I am never going to get another raise.
N&M: :-(((( As a woman, the range of acceptable behavior is really narrow. Basically you’re expected to just take whatever you’re served and keep quiet. And if it bothers you, it’s your fault. And if you complain, you’re a bitch. And if you just interrupt like you’ve been interrupted countless times — you guessed it! Bitch again! It’s infuriating. I’m really sorry.
It’s not JUST men who won’t let you get a word in edgewise. [Though it may well indeed be statistically significantly far more likely with men, I totally believe that.]. I have several friends and research collaborators, women, who really grate on me because of that- they are awesome otherwise. (I’m a man, by the way.) The other day I was in a meeting with one of them I was so frustrated at not getting a word in edgewise that one time when she interrupted me I “leaned back, crossed my arms” and let her speak until I could chime in without interrupting her. It was more than 20 minutes of monologue: I checked my watch. She is “senior” to me in power/authority in the institutional and project hierarchy. I wonder if that is the dynamic at play, here, given that men are more likely to be in positions of actual or perceived power?
But you’re supposed to lean IN! (I also have, on occasion, leaned away in disgust.)
Yes, guys (and gals) interrupting in meetings can be maddening. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to deal with this.
Low-ranking men also have the same problem as women – it isn’t really a gendered problem, IMO. It’s just that women tend to think that workplace interrupting is similar to if they are interrupted in a social situation.
It is important to understand that workplace interrupting is not a social faux pas – -talking over another person at work is a dominance move used deliberately or instinctively to establish heirarchy.
What doesn’t work: withdrawing, showing embarrassment at being interrupted, anything that looks like pouting or being offended. These strategies don’t work in the workplace because they are designed to convey your hurt feelings in social relationships and to get the interrupter to be shocked at you being noticeably upset and then stop what they are doing to work to soothe your feelings. But in the workplace, the interrupting people don’t care much about your emotional response because they don’t have a close social relationship with you. They are interrupting you in order to get their opinions and ideas noticed instead of yours – by withdrawing, you are doing exactly what they wish.
Here’s what I found actually works when either men or women interrupt you at work:
If this happens, I immediately 1) very loudly and firmly ask/order them to please stop/wait and let me finish. At the same time, 2) I utilize some kind of attention-getting and dramatic body language – such as putting up one hand in a “stop” kind of motion, or pushing both arms way out horizontally as if you are doing the breaststroke or clearing away an obstacle, or sometimes just pushing back my chair and facing them. Make sure your body language is a smooth controlled powerful movement however and not just flailing – and then freeze and hold your pose for a bit too long until everyone stops and is looking at you (keep you hand up in a “stop motion”, keep you arms spread out, keep facing directly at the person.
It feels kind of weird and dramatic, but it usually works for me. Your movement will draw everyone’s attention back to you, and usually everyone will also see you as confidently confronting and challenging the interrupter and maybe even restoring an orderly discussion. Because the interrupter has now lost everyone’s attention, they will be flummoxed and their words will often fade out. If not, you can also use a loud verbal statement and patiently ask them/order them to let you finish, or to let others talk, or propose that everyone wait their turn so everyone’s voice on this topic is heard – or something that aligns with “professionalism” and also establishes you as a leader of the group.
It’s important to not use very many words,or get emotional or angry when you give the verbal statement asking them to stop, and you need to be careful not rush your words either. Make a loud but simple demand type statement, without anger but maybe showing a little exasperation and showing how patient you are —- like you would say something to a dog you are training, or a toddler who is having a meltdown. I also kindly smile at them like I would at an angry toddler….
In extreme cases if this doesn’t work to stop a chaotic meeting I am trying to lead, I just simply get up and walk out of the room, while sighing and looking at my watch and muttering something such as “so sorry, I have another really important meeting – ha ha, I am so over-booked! Maybe we can discuss this again later, my secretary will be in touch….”
So that’s just my $0.02….from years of my workplace meeting experience. I’m not sure if it is transferrable to the situations of others, but it works for me. I’m a physically small, conventionally “pretty-looking”, now middle-aged, woman scientist a highly competitive field. Until I developed this strategy, I was regularly fuming about being overlooked and interrupted. I’m not sure why this strategy works, but it does for me. Best wishes, y’all.
Artnsci, you are awesome! 🙂
Thank you for this post, and ensuing comments. Very insightful!
“As a woman, the range of acceptable behavior is really narrow. Basically you’re expected to just take whatever you’re served and keep quiet. And if it bothers you, it’s your fault. And if you complain, you’re a bitch. And if you just interrupt like you’ve been interrupted countless times — you guessed it! Bitch again! It’s infuriating. I’m really sorry.”
So much this. I’ve got a male colleague who’s been taking advantage of me and my work for years. When I complained, I became the problem, because somehow complaining about being taking advantage of is worse than taking advantage. He’s gotten away with it for so long because he’s a nice guy and wasn’t trying to be a jerk when he was thoughtlessly benefiting his own career at the expense of mine (this was management’s explicit response). Now I’ve got both the albatross of hapless take-advantage guy to tote around *and* I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten a reputation as a trouble maker who’s “difficult to work with” :(.
Thanks for this post. It is hugely exhausting to deal with this. There’s a regular meeting where I have to deal with an interrupter and a constant mutterer, and I come out of there as though I’ve just wrestled a giant octopus into submission.