Can I just finish…

There’s heaps of research that supports the idea that men interrupt women more than they interrupt other men (just Google it if you don’t believe me). Women aren’t alone in being interrupted of course. It can happen to us all. So what to do? Options include:

Just put up with it. You’ve been cut off by the Biggest Gorilla in your organisational jungle. They’re not known for reacting favourably to people who interrupt them right back. So you may decide that just putting up with it is the best strategy. Maybe it is, now and again. But if you find you’re taking this option all the time, you really need to read on.

Wait for them to finish, then chip in. This will work if you’ve been listening to what your interrupter has said and can relate it to your contribution. It might backfire badly if you’ve evidently just been seething and waiting for your chance, oblivious to how the conversation has moved on.

Don’t be too prickly. ‘Overlapping’ is a feature of normal conversation, as people chime in with others’ speech. Some think aloud, prompted by what another is saying – again normal. No slight implied. So if that’s what’s really going on, desensitise a little.

Notice if they interrupt others. If that happens, observe closely how other people respond, and note what works – and what doesn’t. Bear in mind that not all the successful strategies will fit you equally well, so start with one you’re most comfortable with.

Have a word with your manager. If they’re in the meeting and tolerating this behaviour, it will repay you to have a quiet word afterwards about, a) how often it happened, b) the effect it had and, c) their advice on how you can deal with it. It’s entirely possible your manager hasn’t even noticed.

Have a word with your interrupter. Again, best done beyond the meeting. And again, they may have no idea it’s going on. But this will only work if you are completely prepared: how often and when exactly did they interrupt you?

Stick with it. Maintain friendly eye contact, smile and say, “Can I finish?” Just beware coming off as patronising, so watch the tone of voice and body language.

Get to the point. When what you say is succinct, makes sense and is waffle-free, you’re more likely to get the mic.

There’s a great example of a manager breaking this behaviour pattern in Sheryl Sandberg’s recent HBR podcast, which you can access here. Something tells me Ms Sandberg probably doesn’t get interrupted all that often…

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