Helen Gottstein
Corporate public speaking skills for people of ambition

Get interrupted less. Here’s how

Whatever you think of Candidate for VP, Kamala Harris, she was interrupted 11 times to Mike Pence’s five during their debate. Again, no matter what you think of her and whether you like or her perspective or not, chances are you don’t think women should be interrupted more than men.

Maybe you would also like to get interrupted less.

To be clear, both women and men interrupt women twice as much as they interrupt men. The good news is, just reading that line will make you more conscious of who and how you interrupt.

Debbie Tannen, the leading world expert on gender, shows women get interrupted twice as often as men. According to research by Washington State University, female supreme court judges were interrupted three times as much as their male colleagues, including by their direct subordinates. So yes, this happens at every level.

FYI, there are two kinds of interruption.

Women interrupt frequently to reinforce, co-talk or ask for an explanation or supply a word or phrase someone is looking for. Gender researchers have a name for that kind of interruption. (I think they have a name for everything.) They call them cooperative interruptions.

At lunch with friends, Mr. Fintech did what is called aggressive interruption: he just took the floor.  It was like he couldn’t stop. I’d been asked to share about the keynote I’d given the day before. As my subject was “Strategies to Contend With Bias in the Workplace,” the ongoing interruptions were a little ironic.

Other forms of aggressive interruption include dismissal, topic change and summarization that paraphrases and minimizes the speaker’s point. You may also have experienced those.

But before you get upset about this, here’s some more good news: you can learn strategies to help you contend more effectively with interruptions.

Here’s how:

  1. Ask for what you want in advance. “Hey everyone, let me finish the big picture of the strategy before you jump in with questions or ideas. Cool?”

You are mid-presentation, now what?

  1. Just keep going. I’ve seen this baby used to wonderful effect by the ex-head of the Israel Women’s Network. Two people tried to interrupt her simultaneously but she just kept calmly sailing on. No drama. She didn’t speed up, take offence, raise her volume, nada. She just kept speaking. Debbie Tannen recommends this one.
  2. Call it. “Hey Josh, thanks for that thought. I’d like to finish the whole plan before we open it up to discussion, ok?” You could call him out – and I have a variety of colorful suggestions for how to do that  – but public cursing is unlikely to yield the results you want.
  3. Let it go. You don’t have to fight every fight every time.

To preserve the relationships at the lunch table that day, I took the fourth. I let it go. What helped me was my partner met my eyes and raised his eyebrows to say, “Isn’t that what you were just talking about?”

  1. Have speaking strategies in place that help you command the table with more confidence even in impromptu settings.

And, obviously, if you notice you are a frequent purveyor of talkus interruptus, give her a chance to be heard. That way, no-one will smile at you and say, “Will you please let me finish?”

About the Author
Helen Gottstein, Loud and Clear Training, boosts public speaking skills for people of ambition and corporate teams so they reach their speaking goals. She's a popular public speaker, a TEDX mentor and a lousy cook.
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