Manterrupting: How To Take Your Power Back
As early as the mid-1970’s, research was being conducted on women’s experience in being interrupted by men when talking. A 1998 study by Candace West, a sociology professor at University of California Santa Cruz, found that doctors who are women are more than twice as likely to be interrupted by their patients than male doctors.
In 2009, we saw the practice live, on center stage at the MTV Video Music Awards when Kanye literally took the mic (and the moment) out of Taylor Swift’s hands.
In 2014, Kieran Snyder, an empirical linguist, conducted a non-scientific study and found that men interrupted at twice the rate that women did. Snyder also found that men are three times more likely to interrupt women as they are to interrupt another man. When women do interrupt, they interrupt other women 87% of the time.
These findings were replicated, to some extent, in a 2014 study by researchers at George Washington University. 20 men and 20 women were divided into conversational pairs and given topics to discuss while under 3-minute observation.
The results? Women, on average, interrupted men just once, but interrupted other women 2.8 times. Men interrupted their male conversational partners twice, on average, and interrupted women 2.6 times.
In 2015, we again witnessed the interruption of a female Google exec by a male Google exec at South by Southwest in a forum on … attracting and advancing more women in tech.
The term “manterruption” was coined in 2015 by the Time columnist Jessica Bennett to describe the unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man.
In researching for this article, I was made aware of a distinction that linguists make in defining interruptions.
An affiliative overlap is an interruption that demonstrates enthusiasm, agreement, or rapport.
An intrusive interruption is one that functions to usurp the speaker’s turn at talking with the intent of demonstrating dominance.
A 1998 meta-analysis of 43 published studies comparing men’s and women’s interruptions during conversation found that men were more likely to interrupt women via intrusive interruption (with intent to assert dominance in the conversation). As the group size expanded beyond two people, men interrupted more frequently.
According to this 2019 study, the biggest challenge for on-site workers during hybrid meetings (meetings with both onsite and remote attendees) are interruptions/being talked over (61%).
The biggest challenge for remote workers during hybrid meetings are interruptions/being talked over (67%).
It’s the intrusive interruption that this article has in mind as it pertains to manterrupting.
So now that we know that this problem exists, what do we do about it?
HOW TO FIGHT MANTERRUPTING SILENTLY
1. Take notice
Awareness of this as a persistent issue means you may now want to take notice of where and when this pattern occurs in your day-to-day. You may find that you initially see it as a microaggression – upsetting but not egregious in its own right. Keeping track of its occurrence (and your reaction to it) may help, so keep a tally on the side of your paper at work, or at home when watching the news.
2. Beef up listening skills and empathy
- The only thing worse than not doing anything about an issue once you are aware of it is perpetuating the issue yourself. Said simply: don’t interrupt.
- Practice the three second method: leave three seconds of silence before reacting.
- Acknowledge your need to express yourself as well as the other person’s need to be heard.
- Do not deprive others of the opportunity to hear from someone.
3. Create and use agendas for meetings
- As structure increases, interruptions decrease. Defining the meeting’s purpose, leader, and outcomes brings clarity to who should be speaking and why.
- When meetings are freeform brainstorming sessions, even an informal agenda can help reduce interruptions (which typically increase in such a meeting).
- When a woman sets the agenda and leads the meeting, she has an easier time reclaiming the floor when she is interrupted.
4. Use affirmative, confident language
Do not undermine your credibility by
- Opening with: “I don’t know if this is right, but …”
- Apologizing: “I’m sorry, I’d like to add something…”
- Asking permission: “Can I add something here?”
Rather, stand in your power by asserting your position:
- “I have researched this extensively, and what I’ve learned is…”
- “I know this to be true: market A is where we need to be.”
5. Seek out male allies
- If there is a repeat offender in your office, pull a trusted male friend aside, brief him on the issue, and see if he’s willing to a) take notice and b) be an ally.
- When one man points out another man’s interruption, it stops the interruptor in his tracks and diminishes the likelihood of future interruptions.
- Men, try “Wait, let her finish” or “Hold on – Samantha was saying something. Let’s hear her out.”
6. Use strong body language
- When seated, put your hands/forearms on the table so that they are visible and lean in when speaking. You will present as powerful, giving others pause before interrupting.
- When standing, place your feet shoulder-distance apart and use your hands to gesture if it is natural for you to do so.
HOW TO FIGHT MANTERRUPTING VERBALLY
7. Assume the role of the choir director
- Make sure everyone’s voice is heard. When you witness someone being talked over, speak up, saying, “I think Alison was just about to share something with us about her experience. Alison: I’d love to hear what you were going to say.”
- Introduce a “no interrupting rule” in meetings while assuring participants that everyone will have a turn to speak.
8. Verbally affirm your right to speak
Demonstrate assertiveness when confronted with a manterruption. When someone cuts you off, it is well within your right to protest. Politely but firmly say, “Please let me finish and you can have your say afterwards.”
9. Use the amplification strategy
Systematically repeat the suggestion made by another female colleague until the subject is on either the meeting agenda or the consciousness of the meeting participants, or both.
10. Take turns
- In meetings where the leader asks people to go around the table to give their perspectives, interruptions decrease. Taking turns allows for complete clarity around who should be talking and who needs to wait their turn.
- When you are leading the meeting, make this a practice. If someone else is leading the meeting, raise the question early on so you (and others) know the modus operandi.
11. Set the tone, rules, and expectations for the meeting at the outset
- Interruptions lead to longer meetings that get off track.
- Establishing interruptions as “against the rules” from the outset makes people more likely to avoid these behaviors.
12. Women: be persistent
When you are interrupted, stand your ground by either continuing to talk with the goal of “out-talking” the interrupter, or jump back in at the next pause in the conversation, repeating yourself if necessary until your voice is heard.
Anne played an integral role during my transition into a leadership position. She helped me identify my strengths, areas of growth and most importantly she held me accountable. Anne’s years of experience combined with her compassionate disposition were exactly what I needed.
13. Have a private conference
Speaking up and out in the moment can backfire; rather, pull the interrupter aside after the meeting to make them aware of the habit and ask if you can partner with them in helping them overcome it.
Now that you know what manterrupting is and have the tools to fight it, it’s time to get to it! Forward this to someone who needs to get woke, and check out the related articles below.
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