As Jessica Bennet describes the phenomena on Time.com, "We speak up in a meeting, only to hear a man's voice chime in louder. We pitch an idea, perhaps too uncertainly, only to have a dude repeat it with authority. We may possess the skill, but he has the right vocal cords." The effects of this, for women, go far beyond annoyance, the Time article suggests; being interrupted constantly quiets women, makes them lose their confidence and sometimes credit for their work.
"Our ideas get co-opted (bro-opted), re-appropriated (bro-propriated?), or they simply fizzle out," says Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg. "We become less creative, less engaged. We revert into ourselves, wondering if it's actually our fault. Enter spiral of self-doubt."
But women don't have to take interruptions in stride. Leslie Shore, the author of Listen to Succeed, offered these tips in Forbes that anyone can use to put a stop to interruptions, though they are particularly designed for women:
- Override the interruption right away. If you are interrupted for "any reason other than someone asking for clarification, say to the interrupter, 'There are a few more essential points I need to make. Can you delay a moment while I do that?' or 'I know I will appreciate your feedback, but can you hold off until I'm done?'"
- Adopt speaking strategies that already work for men. "Use shorter sentences so your breaths in between aren't as long, making it harder to interrupt, and speak with conviction using words like 'know' instead of 'believe' and 'will' instead of 'might.'"
- Lean in and make eye contact. Shore cites Carol Kennedy and Carl Camden's study "Interruptions and Nonverbal Gender Differences," which found men tend to interrupt women more often when they lean away or don't look at the person they're talking to.
- Go by the buddy system. It may rankle and smacks of sexism, but Bennett says a tried-and-true way of preventing interruptions is for a woman to buddy up with a friend - preferably a dude - for business talks. "Ask him to nod and look interested when you speak (when he's interested, of course). Let him back you up publicly in meetings. Seriously, try it. It's not fair, no. But dammit, it works."
- Practice assertive body language. Other suggestions from Bennett include sitting at the table, pointing to someone, standing up or walking to the front of the room while you speak. Not only do these "high power poses" make a speaker appear more authoritative, but they actually increase your testosterone levels – and thus, your confidence. In some cases, it may actually help to literally "lean in"; in one study, researchers found that men physically lean in more often than women in professional meetings, making them less likely to be interrupted.
- Claim your own voice. You'll undermine your own authority if you start pitches with sentences like, "I'm not sure if this is right, but." Instead, speak authoritatively and avoid the baby voice. Most importantly, don't open your remarks with any type of apology.
Along with practicing not being interrupted yourself, it's good form to work on ways not to be the interruptor. After all, the 2014 George Washington University study did indicate that even women interrupted female conversation partners more often than they did men. And either gender can promote a free-flowing exchange of ideas that rewards speakers of both genders. Forbes.com recommends these tactics:
- Think twice before you break into the conversation. Consider if you are interrupting to become the speaker and gain power, and also how you'll look to everyone else in the room.
- If you determine you're interrupting to gain clarity, make sure you break in with a clear question and then turn the floor back to the original speaker.
- If you determine you're interrupting because you're worried you'll forget what you want to say, jot key words on your notepad to bring up your points later, without interrupting.
Finally, be sure you're not interrupting yourself with digital distractions. According to Tom Searcy, Founder of Hunt Big Sales, you can also flounder in idea creation and presentation by allowing too many text, phone and social media interruptions during "think time" at work. "There is not sense in creating the physical and mental space for thought while still allowing ongoing digital interruptions," he wrote in Inc.com. "Set yourself up to win. Shut down the digital access. Even if you are working on your laptop, shut down the feeds of streaming interruptions for that period."