Biz lady can't finish a sentence w/o being interrupt--
November 5, 2014 8:57 AM   Subscribe

I am a professional. I am a lady. Every day, in meetings, the same thing happens: the contribution I'm so excited to make to a meeting gets INTERRUPTED by a man or a woman. I am not verbose. I am succinct. I do not speak more than anyone else in the group. Yet I cannot freaking finish a thought without someone interrupting me. It is making me insane.

For the sake of contrast, when a dude speaks, no one interrupts. Doesn't matter if he's high or low on the totem pole-- people give him CONVERSATIONAL SPACE. Apparently, it's not just me.

Yesterday I reached my breaking point. Was interrupted every single time I spoke. My SO says I should just fight it off every time with "HEY, can I just finish this point?" My concern is that I'll come across as "abrasive" and hurt my cause even more. I considered starting a meeting with something to the effect of, "Hey! Out of consideration for everyone's ideas, let's create a no-interruption meeting" because I also resent that the burden of this effed up cultural phenomenon falls on the shoulders of individuals every time they encounter the problem.

IT IS EXHAUSTING.

Hive mind. Help.
posted by airguitar2 to Work & Money (50 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there someone more senior than you who is sympathetic? Maybe that person could play the bad guy role of speaking up when you are interrupted.

I don't think a pre-meeting general statement will help because the offenders maybe are not aware that they're the offenders. Or think that this one time time it's justified.
posted by mullacc at 9:04 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Time to break out the Talking Stick?
posted by oxisos at 9:05 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Assert yourself...demand to finish what you are saying. You get trampled upon because others see they can do this.
posted by Postroad at 9:05 AM on November 5, 2014 [16 favorites]


I hold up a hand, and say LOUDLY: "Please allow me to finish" and then I keep talking.

You may feel like a jackass, but just do it. I honestly don't think it's necessarily deliberate sexism, but that interrupters are SO FOCUSED on what they want to say that they can't see anything else.
posted by gsh at 9:08 AM on November 5, 2014 [66 favorites]


Sometimes I just keep talking as if they hadn't interrupted. If they keep going (which is typical) I have been known to say (firmly) "LET ME FINISH" at louder volume. That generally shuts 'em up. No apology from you is appropriate or necessary.

Joan Rivers once referred to her onstage demeanor as that of a lion tamer cracking the whip. Not advocating a level of abrasiveness a la Joan but sometimes dealing with people is like dealing with dogs with big brains. Raise your volume a bit, lower the tone, and SLOW DOWN. Woof. Good luck.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:09 AM on November 5, 2014 [14 favorites]


I kind of agree with your SO that fighting it off every time is the most likely to be effective. But I also agree with you that you will come across as abrasive. But hey, what you're doing now isn't working, so why not try something different.

A slightly gentler version of this would be to listen to what the person who interrupted you says, and then redirect with "As I was saying..." Or when you interrupt your interrupter back say, "Oh, sorry, I wasn't finished." You're not sorry, obviously, but if softens the statement.

Or what about taking aside the person who interrupted you (after the meeting) and asking them if they realized that they interrupted you and asking them to not do it in the future? Just, like, "Leslie, I don't know if you realized you did it, but you interrupted me in the meeting, and you actually do it pretty often. Could you help me out by trying not to do that in the future?" This also kind of works like a warning that you're going to be calling them out in the future.

It's a totally sucky situation, and it's going to be really hard, maybe impossible to change.

* I'm a woman who has been described as "abrasive" by female colleagues and "terrifying" by male colleagues, fwiw. I consider myself to be eminently mild-mannered.
posted by mskyle at 9:10 AM on November 5, 2014 [26 favorites]


Is there a host to this meeting? She or he should be controlling this, and the meeting should have more structure to it. Jane presents an idea, and everyone goes around the table saying what they think, not everyone jumping in to get their ideas out first.

I'd propose a two-pronged approach: talk to the meeting organizer and tell her (well, it's probably a him, isn't it?) that a different structure would work better for Reasons (don't make them personal, because they will benefit everyone). And also, when you are interrupted, use gsh's approach. Eventually, they will learn that they cannot talk over you. It sucks. Sorry.
posted by desjardins at 9:12 AM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here's a way to passive aggressively remind people not to interrupt you: as they do it, don't stop immediately, keep talking for EXACTLY 5 SECONDS even if it's nonsense-- "and also I wanted to consider the possibility, that we could, if we want to..." then break off with "Oops sorry, no you go on!" even if they barely notice you were both talking at the same time. They may talk over you anyway but you've reserved the right to finish your sentences, and the person will remember that you won't just stop talking when they start.

Especially in the Northeast, all business conversations are naturally sort-of extremely rude, so asking others (especially senior people) to stop may be seen as kind of over-sensitive. And yet everyone probably likes you because you don't do it. Yay Business!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:13 AM on November 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


When people interrupt me I wait for them to finish and then start my sentence from the beginning again. I repeat until they get the idea.

If this is a meeting it should be run properly. Who called the meeting? They should be running it. People should address their comments to the meeting organizer, and they should make sure that the proper agenda is being followed and that only one person is talking at a time. It takes a fairly strong personality, but most people just have no idea how to run a meeting. Have a conversation before the meeting with the organizer: "I think there will be a lot of people who want to speak up in this meeting; make sure you run it properly, don't allow side conversations, and make sure nobody is interrupting each other."

Watch some political shows on your favorite news network. That should give you some ideas on how to deal with interruptions.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:13 AM on November 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Body language while you're talking can help. Sit up straight, speak loudly and make eye contact with people--especially the likely interrupters--and try to exude the confidence that comes with having the floor. Try to avoid "ums" as that's just an invitation to interrupt. All of this will help when you inevitably have to cut off the interrupters with "Excuse me, I'm not quite finished with my point. As I was saying..."
posted by carmicha at 9:14 AM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


This drives me crazy, too.

It's hard to change difficult workplace cultural norms, especially when it centers around men and women being treated differently in non-measureable ways. Office culture comes from the top down; if you can get HR or your department lead or whoever to issue the new let-others-finish policy (or back people up when they're interrupted), that's one thing, but you'll come across as thin-skinned and—I hate to say it—shrill if you do it yourself. Extra-unfair, but that's how it is. And, depending on your work culture, it might even (wrongly!) signal that you can't keep up in a fast-paced environment (that's how it would be at my office; it's expected that everyone will present themselves in a very aggro way all the time, and it's a sign of how passionate and smart we all are...or something).

So I fight it every time. I'm also a woman, and a teeny-tiny babyfaced one to boot.

1) Most direct and neutral: Just say "Let me finish, please".
2) Slightly rude but extremely effective: Hold your hand up to acknowledge the interrupter and just keep talking, until they stop. Almost no one will keep it up; the key is the acknowledgement that you know they have something to say but you are still talking.
3) Passive aggressive: Stop talking completely, wait for the interruptor to finish, then just pick back up where you left off as though they never said anything. This is a nuclear option and is getting into nanny territory, but for chronic interruptors it can work over time.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:18 AM on November 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


I'm a woman. I am notorious for interrupting people in meetings and in life. As someone with the opposite problem, I will generally shut up (and not judge) if someone says, "Hey, can I finish?" or "Excuse me, I was talking" or "Shut your piehole, you ranting crazy person. LET SOMEONE ELSE HAVE THE FLOOR."
posted by thivaia at 9:18 AM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I hold up a hand, and say LOUDLY: "Please allow me to finish" and then I keep talking.

Yes, seconding this. I used to be interrupted ALL THE FUCKING TIME at work, which resulted in incorrect information being presented to trustees and high-level advisers and whatnot, actually damaging things instead of clarifying them. I simply do not allow interruptions anymore and have been so strict with sticking to my PLEASE DO NOT INTERRUPT ME TO PROVIDE INCORRECT INFORMATION guns that people in meetings now automatically look to me when finishing their own topics to make sure that they've spoken correctly. It helps that I lean more towards speaking in bullet points in professional situations instead of doing the storyteller/outline thing that a lot of people in my field tend to do.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:23 AM on November 5, 2014 [19 favorites]


It's unfortunate that this is such a common issue in many workplaces. As a young manager in meetings largely dominated by middle-aged males, I decided several years ago that I was tired of being talked over/around in meetings. I began experimenting with a number of strategies that would allow me to feel heard by my colleagues.

Here are the things that work very well for me:

1. I have removed the "apologetic tone" from my voice. I am not sorry for speaking up or sharing my ideas.
2. I speak concisely and with confidence.
3. If someone interrupts me, I turn my body toward them and address them politely, saying, "Hold on just a moment, I'm not quite finished." I say this with a smile and a friendly tone. Depending on how well you know your co-workers, it may also be helpful to use the person's name: "Jeff, hold that thought for just a second, I want to wrap-up this idea."
4. Remembering not to take things personally allows me to easily move past meeting moments that are less than ideal.
5. My goal is always to guide/redirect conversation, not to teach my colleagues a lesson.

Go, you!
posted by WaspEnterprises at 9:24 AM on November 5, 2014 [95 favorites]


The meeting organizer should absolutely be jumping in to say "Bob, Jane wasn't finished. Jane, please continue." [Jane finishes her thought] "Okay, Bob, what did you want to say now?" This is 100% their fault if they've let this go on and this is a shitty work culture. Yet, you probably can't change that.

Are these meetings in person or on the phone? The approach changes a lot since no one can see your body language on a conference call (minus Skype or the like).
posted by desjardins at 9:32 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am an interrupter. I am not a gender-based interrupter - I'm a woman, and the discounting-women's-opinions thing makes me furious - but I am and always have been an interrupter. It's something I'm working on.

Knowing that about myself, I would not think you were abrasive or doing anything wrong if you said "Let me finish my thought" or something of the sort, or spoke to me after the meeting. I would be embarrassed and mad at myself, but not at all at you. So I think you should go to town on that - the people who are all-purpose interrupting jerks but trying not to be could use the reminder, and the people who don't realize they're being jerks also need the reminder.

That said, I would heartily agree to a no-interruption space - but then possibly do it anyway, because again, it's something I am working on but not yet very good at controlling. I know "just don't interrupt" sounds super easy, but I've found it not to be, at least for me. I don't think that's the total solution to your problem, although maybe it would help with some of it or at least make it more comfortable for you to point out interruption when it happens.
posted by Stacey at 9:35 AM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


There is nothing - nothing - aggressive about preventing someone from interrupting you.

Try to go in with the mindset that, at the very least, your putting the meeting back on track is for the good of the meeting and may be saving an interrupting oaf from being stupid in public.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:37 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you're not up for going "hang on a sec, let me finish" then let them have their say and try "That's nice, as I was saying . .. . " and finish what you were going to say then address whatever new point they bought up if relevant.

I am a terrible interrupter I do it all the time, I am working on, it but when I slip up the second method is my husbands technique, it politely reminds me I interrupted, lets him finish his thought & still makes me feel heard.
posted by wwax at 9:37 AM on November 5, 2014


You know that thing that actors on crappy sitcoms do, when they look at the camera and shrug?

Thats what you start doing. When guy equal to or lower than you on the totem pole interrupts you, turn to someone next to you with the expression "Get a load of this asshole? Am I right?"

You break their eye contact, you slightly humiliate them, you get someone else to be empathetic to you. And bonus, if anyone asks "wait, excuse me?" You just get to say "Oh I just thought X was being rude cutting me off while I was speaking."
posted by fontophilic at 9:38 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


You need to take up space, both verbally and physically. Women are not really taught that it's ok (and at times necessary) to "take up space" and frequently are taught that it is out of line if we do take up space.

Sit up straight or stand when making your point, spread out your arms and lean into the table/group. Speak loudly and firmly -- never apologize or pre-deprecate your own statements. Keep talking when someone interrupts, holding up your hand (to indicate "wait a moment") if necessary. Look at and direct your comments at the meeting facilitator. If someone just needs to interject, say "Bob, I'm not quite done" and continue speaking - do not wait for his/her agreement to continue.

Lose phrases like "I'd just like to..." "If you wouldn't mind..." "Sorry but..." "It would be great if..."
These phrases come from the assumption that your statement/concerns are, at best, equally valid to theirs, and that your ability to make your statement is dependent on their approval of your right to do so. Clearly, not everyone is doing this mental calculus in their heads all the time, but it does subconsciously imply passivity. You have to speak (and interrupt the interrupters) as though you expect them to comply and them not complying is so absurd that it never even crossed your mind.

Take up space.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2014 [13 favorites]


I am frequently in a position of technical leadership these days and this kind of thing drives me batty because you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. My homemade solution:

May I finish what I started saying about [ISSUE]? I think it's important.

Basically, the idea is that pointing out the issue at hand and how it's important makes it less of a "fuck you for interrupting me" and more of a "we are all rowing this boat".

To be clear, I am not suggesting that it's your job to devise ways to spare the feelings of your sexist colleagues - quite the opposite. But it's also not fair that you should sacrifice your career to make it better for other women down the road and I think my solution is a reasonable mid-point between those two extremes.
posted by rada at 9:46 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Don't ask "can I just..."
Don't request "please let me...".

STATE "please don't interrupt." and then continue.

(This works for me - also a woman who gets interrupted)
posted by thatone at 9:47 AM on November 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm a female and I never get interrupted. Here's how you do it.

- Always present your thoughts LAST if possible... Wait until the meeting's almost over and then say everything.

- Before you start, say politely, "please let me finish my thoughts before you interrupt."

- You might give a summary or conclusion at the beginning, then go back and explain it. Further, you might say at the beginning, "First I'll give a summary, then I will explain why I think this."

- Put positive news at the beginning and sandwich negative news inside two positives.

- Try not to pause in between sentences. If you know a pause is coming, end it with rising intontation.

- Have good ideas.
posted by cmcmcm at 9:51 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


At quick glance, I see four broad tactics above: shrug, request, demand & appeal to authority. I haven't used it in a workplace, but I'd like to suggest a fifth that I've been employing a lot in my personal life: label the behavior. I find that done with care, this can be seen as less abrasive than talking over someone or loudly requesting they stop talking and let you finish, while still being more assertive than asking, apologizing, or avoiding the confrontation with them directly. I stop, allow the person to finish their first sentence or phrase, and immediately interject with a neutral, fact-stating sentence like:

- "Actually, you've interrupted me before I could finish what I was saying."
- "I'm interested in hearing that, but you've interrupted me."
- "You've interrupted me again. I'm in the middle of telling you the rest about A, and then I also wanted to tell you about B, and then let's address that."

When I do this with my partner, I will sometimes follow the fact-based statement with a question like "does that work?" or "is that okay with you?" because I do want to respect his feelings while at the same time not encouraging the behavior. I think those kinds of questions can be okay in a workplace as long as you're careful to keep their tone from being too apologetic, but you know your own personality, work and meeting culture best.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:12 AM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm also female and rarely get interrupted. If I am, I say "Hey! I'm not finished talking. If you could stop interrupting me and let me say my piece, I'd be happy to hear what you have to add. Got it?" And as others have suggested you do, I speak confidently, making eye contact with everyone in the room.

If they think I'm abrasive or bitchy, that's their problem. I stopped caring about that sort of thing a long time ago. And even though I'm in a male-dominated field, incidences like this are rare now.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:30 AM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've seen mild-mannered, high-powered women use the tactics WaspEnterprises advocates with Excellent results. The friendly tone and completely even-keeled, professional demeanor as they did these things meant that no one seemed to feel defensive, she was heard, and the meeting moved forward more efficiently.
posted by ldthomps at 10:33 AM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Do not make a no-interruption rule: it won't work and people will perceive you as bossy and prissy, which are also gender boxes women get stuffed into illegitimately.

No one thing will work, but here are some tactics that might work if you do many or all of them.

* Enlist allies by talking about it outside the meeting. Try to talk about it with regard to other people so you don't get perceived as self-interested and the problem isn't linked solely to you. To a man you might say something like "God, Jim is so interrupt-y. Did you see him talking over Bob?" To a woman you might try "Lisa, that sucked when Mike talked over you. Your point was really interesting." Point is to raise general awareness.

* Intervene in the moment on behalf of other people. "Jim hang on, I don't think Lisa was finished." Or immediately afterwards, "Lisa I don't think you were done. Can you please finish what you were saying."

* Intervene on behalf of yourself. Don't do the same thing every time. Try "Jim, I wasn't quite finished; hang on a second." "Just a minute Jim, I want to complete my thought." Don't seem angry. Holding up your hand is good if you're being provoked.

* Let the interruptor finish and then say something neutral like "That was interesting, Jim. I want to pick up on what we were talking about a minute ago.." Or "I want to build on what Jim just said." People don't like conflict and the goal here is to not escalate or risk being perceived as the problem person. You want the high road.

* Preface your remarks to reduce the likelihood of being interrupted. "Okay, I have a couple of thoughts on this. Let me lay this out." Or "This is important. Let's make sure we get this captured." Never undermine yourself by saying "just a quick thing" or anything like that.

* Make sure you don't interrupt other people. Make sure you don't speak too much. Be succinct and calm when you speak. Don't rush. Model the behaviour you want to see in others.
posted by Susan PG at 10:34 AM on November 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm wondering if you could use a presenter technique. When someone starts to interrupt you, say (not ask) clearly "John/Jane, please hold your questions until I'm done." This is strictly speculation but I'm wondering if that might help put the focus back on you by making it seem (rightly or wrongly) that the conversation is all about your input or idea.

It isn't too hard of a smackdown and it says to the group and the interrupter that s/he will be heard next while assuming the positive - that the interrupter has a question about your awesome idea and isn't simply discounting it and steamrolling over you with something completely different. Good luck!

In our meetings, I periodically get interrupted but am generally cranky and I call people out on it and no one blinks an eye. I also am an occasional-interrupter and try to stop myself and apologize when I do it and I also don't mind getting told "hang on, let me finish". Maybe it balances out.
posted by Beti at 10:40 AM on November 5, 2014


A line that I like to use is, "Oh, excuse me, was I talking while you were interrupting?"
posted by charlesminus at 10:59 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]



When people interrupt me I wait for them to finish and then start my sentence from the beginning again. I repeat until they get the idea.


This is good advice, as is a lot of other advice in this thread, including not sounding like you're asking a question when you're making a statement. I don't think directives like "please don't interrupt me" are very helpful - people will get defensive if you think you're telling them what to do.

I use the tactic above when people interrupt me - I stop talking and keep my face neutral while the interrupter talks, and then repeat my point.

Another general attention - keeping technique is to number what I'm going to say, for example " I have two thoughts " and then go on to say "1. that will take us over budget" "2. I will ask Steve for a few options that will keep us within our budget." (example topic about budget).

I do this because I think generally people don't like paying attention, so they hear you say "2 things" and then wait for the two things, or however many. If you just start talking, they'll jump all over you after the first thing because they feel like there's an indefinite amount of comments they will have to sit through.
posted by sweetkid at 10:59 AM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have the talking stick at this moment
posted by Postroad at 11:03 AM on November 5, 2014


Really great ideas, folks. Sorry to threadsit, but I realized that 1/2 of the women in this product demo video are INTERRUPTED IN THE SCRIPT.


cannot unsee. ok, thanks, proceed.
posted by airguitar2 at 11:05 AM on November 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I was in a college seminar and kept getting interrupted every time I spoke, generally by one of the two men in the seminar. One class, I decided to keep talking as he interrupted me, as if the interruption weren't happening at all.

It was ridiculous how hard it was to continue talking and not to defer to the interruptor; it felt hideously rude and awful. What helped was reminding myself that he was being even more rude and awful, as he was continuing to talk over me.

I actually don't remember how that particular interaction ended -- I suspect I finally lost my nerve and gave in -- but the instructor was so much better about stopping interruptions from that point on.

If I were experiencing this in a professional setting, I'd probably do some practice first, like having my partner interrupt me while I continued to keep talking, and then use that approach in meetings.

If interruptors can talk over you like you're not talking, there's no reason you can't do the same.
posted by jaguar at 11:15 AM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I am a woman. I don't get interrupted, or get interrupted infrequently. Here is why I think that is:
1. I speak very authoritatively and in a lower register when I am saying something important.
2. I don't interrupt others.
3. If someone tries to start talking over me when I am clearly in the middle of a point and they are being rude then I CONTINUE TALKING. I will speak a little louder (never shouty) if need be but I just keep talking as though someone wasn't rudely trying to interrupt me. Basically, I don't LET people interrupt me. I mean, it is FASCINATING that they feel like they need to talk right at that moment, but *I* am talking right now so I am going to continue talking.
4. If I DO get successfully interupted I will interject as soon as possible (the second they finish a sentence) and say "Before we continue with your point I am going to finish what I was saying first." and then I continue what I was saying. I'm not ASKING if I can resume. I am TELLING.


I also have the luxury (seriously) of having the reputation of being able to be a bitch if pushed too far. This has been intentionally crafted. I am lovely and friendly and a great team player and respectful, but if you continuously insist upon acting like an ass I WILL call you on it, and it will get awkward... for you. I am just fine with having some people not like me, and I am just fine having some people think I am a huge bitch. It is never the people I actually work with that think that about me, never the people who actually know me or have any sort of impact on my life or career, so who cares. That is the price I pay to be able to treated as an equal, full participant, and valuable.

Sad that I live in a world where I have to be perceived as being bitchy in order to be treated respectfully...
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:19 AM on November 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


I'm an equal-opportunity interrupter. I even interrupt my boss all the time and it drives him crazy. I have never been offended when someone tells me to wait until they finish speaking. Just be assertive, put your hand up and keep talking. When i do it, but usually it's not as much "I don't care what you are saying" as much as its "I already know where you're going with this, let me save us some time by getting to the next step."
posted by empath at 11:29 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like many of the ideas listed above but my suggestion is for those days when you just don't have the energy for those more proactive options:

We create "parking lots" for ideas at some of the meetings I'm in. The idea is if you think your idea/question isn't immediately relevant to the topic at hand, you jot it on a sticky note and put it in the center of the table or on chart paper or whiteboard and then it WILL get addressed at the end. Perhaps propose a parking lot for meetings or just informally implement the center of the table one by bringing sticky notes to each meeting and jotting down the rest of your thought when interrupted and, somewhat pointedly, put it in the center of the table. When there is a chance, you can say, "Before XXX's point, I was saying blah blah blah... " and then toss your note.
posted by adorap0621 at 11:33 AM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


If you're in a speaking posture when interrupted during a meeting, hold that posture and make eye contact with the meeting facilitator. He/she should redirect back to you. Also, seconding adorap0621's point about taking notes on statements you aren't able to finish or cannot address during the meeting. Bring them up during a quiet moment later on or send via email to relevant parties after the meeting.
posted by kelegraph at 12:02 PM on November 5, 2014


Assert yourself. Be abrasive. You will not get any points for being nice or community oriented in a corporate environment.
Mark your territory and presence early by asking the first question or commenting loudly first. Trust me, people will listen.
posted by jellyjam at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2014


I run into this situation a lot, since I work in an area where there's a lot of heated discussion/comments/questions during and after talks, including lots and lots of interruptions mid-sentence. There is definitely a gender component - guys are more likely to interrupt, particularly when a woman is speaking. And women are more likely to yield the floor to the interrupter. I like to pay attention to how people deal with interruptions, and the response they get, so I can learn the best ways to deal with it myself. Of course, this depends very much on the culture at your workplace, so I'd hesitate to generate universal rules from these observations. Still, what seems most effective to me is:

1) Continuing to talk, calmly, ignoring the interruption completely, until the main point has been made or at least the sentence completed. Can hold up a finger telling them to wait or make firm eye contact with them or just ignore them completely. Then after finishing (no more than like...15-30 seconds later) going back to the interrupter and politely asking if they had a question. Men do this "talking through the interruption" thing a lot - women do it much less, and it tends to come off as really self-confident when they do. To me this seems like the ideal way to respond, and always impresses me when I see people doing it smoothly and confidently. It tends to be received well by others, too.

2) At least as important is giving clear opportunities to "interrupt" - frequent, brief pauses after concluding each subtopic (maybe every minute or two) while making eye contact with the audience and looking attentive. Not so long that it's awkward or makes you seem like you're lost for words, but long enough that people feel like they can ask a question without being rude. People who do this well have a lot fewer people interrupting them mid-sentence. It works particularly well if you're speaking confidently the rest of the time - minimal use of "um", "uptalking", trailing off, etc. Then you're drawing a clear line between talking vs. inviting comments. Some people even ask directly "any questions before we move on to the next point?" which works well in moderation (maybe 2-3 times throughout the talk).

3) Some people lose their train of thought entirely when interrupted. In this case it's probably better to find workarounds outside of the presentation/discussion setting - for example talking to the problematic people, asking the organizers in advance to help keep people in line, or if appropriate, making a brief request at the beginning for people to save comments until the end.

Directly scolding the interrupter on the spot seems very rude and overreacting to me, but may be more appropriate in environments where interruptions are less common (and therefore much more rude). Can't really comment on those environments, but I rarely see people doing it in my workplace, other than maybe a few times when someone has a particularly obnoxious/frequent interrupting habit.
posted by randomnity at 12:14 PM on November 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


You can mitigate the abrasiveness of standing up for yourself by making the statement about *you* and not about the interrupter by saying firmly:

'Hang on, I want to finish this comment.'

You will be short-circuiting the interruption, but the content of what you are saying can't be perceived as rude.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:30 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Lady interrupter here. I know it's a problem. I do it to both men and women, no matter what tone they are using, topic of discussion, posture, etc. I'm just too excited with my own idea and can't wait to say it. (Or some people just never stop talking and I'm trying to get a word in edgewise. But that is most decidedly in the minority.) As soon as I interject, I realize I'm being an ass and say, "Sorry, you were saying?" So maybe take a deep breath, smile, and be gracious?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:34 PM on November 5, 2014


WaspEnterprises' suggestions are great. You can carry the same genial, confident attitude forward as you continue to talk over an interruptor, using tips from randomnity and Susan PG -- smiling and making eye contact as you hold up a finger, without breaking your speech, signals to the interruptor that they've been acknowledged and their point will be taken up later without your having to say as much or cede the floor. That's much smoother imo (and more easily accepted) than just shouting over someone, which can definitely be perceived as aggro, yes, especially when it's coming from a woman. (Recognizing the other person in some way might also feel better for you, in that it falls in line with the respectful treatment you would expect to receive.)

I agree with sweetkid, and do not at all agree with the advice to explicitly discuss interruptions, or to make rules or timeouts or anything of that nature. That explicitly confirms suspicions that you can't hold your ground, lack power, and need your audience's permission to continue. At best, it might engender pity or sympathy, but I doubt that's the reaction you want. It also doesn't help in the moment, because some people just can't help themselves.

Don't address an interruption with requests -- no "Please", "Sorry", "I'm not done", or "Let me finish". Those phrases come across as whiny, honestly, and don't actually work that well (ime as a formerly chronically interrupted person), for the reasons sweetkid outlined. Instead, try "Thank you, great point, we'll get back to that in a minute," or any of Susan PG's examples (all of which are assertions that guide the discussion, not requests). I've consciously tried to adopt some of those techniques, and have found them hugely helpful.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:41 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


In addition to the above, if you're able, pushing for smaller meeting sizes (fewer people in the room) is an indirect way of reducing interruptions - everyone gets more chance to get their two cents in and feels less need to jam it into anything that looks like an opportunity.
posted by anonymisc at 3:54 PM on November 5, 2014


'Sorry can you hold that thought?' with a smile, then keep speaking.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:05 PM on November 5, 2014


Do you have a trusted co-worker who is in these meetings? If so, ask said co-worker if you are sending out signals that make it appear that you are welcoming interruptions. It might not be a man vs woman thing. If you don't have someone that you trust, ask your co-workers if they would mind you videoing the meeting for training purposes and then watch yourself to see if you pause, seem distracted, appear scattered, speak quietly, or say things that are generally obvious to everyone around you. I'm a woman, I get interrupted often but, when I am saying something of interest well, I never get interrupted. I'm a tiny woman, with a soft voice, but brilliant thoughts hush rooms. On the flip side of it, truly brilliant ideas inspire passionate responses so, you could just be inspiring the heck out of your co-workers, making it impossible for them to sit quietly.

As you are speaking, remember to observe the room. Are people engaged or are they restless? Try and crack a joke every now and again (if you aren't already) to keep them interested.
posted by myselfasme at 6:15 PM on November 5, 2014


A few more suggestions to add to the mix:

- Stand up while you are speaking if possible. Go to the whiteboard, gesture towards a presentation, or just stand up to be seen better if you're short and/or in a large room. People will be less likely to interrupt you because it's clear you have the floor.

- Have a really matter-of-fact attitude about stopping the interruption and continuing. Don't make a long speech or castigate them. Just say: "Sorry, I wasn't finished." Or: "I'd like to finish my point about x." It really doesn't matter what words you put there (it could probably be total nonsense). It's the tone and the short statement that indicate that you are not done yet.

- Here's the pattern: Pause. Interrupt them back with a clear, short statement that you are still talking. Pause. Continue talking. If they keep talking, say "Please write down your thoughts and we'll address them in a minute," or something friendly, clear, and short.
posted by 3491again at 8:08 PM on November 5, 2014


My boss is a really bad interrupter. It's actually pretty annoying because it's not a conversational tic or that she's super enthusiastic about the topic--it's about shutting down the conversation. One day she came in to ask me and a colleague for feedback about a meeting and as we started to talk, she cut me off because she didn't actually want to hear negative feedback. I'd kind of reached the final straw and loudly said "Let me actually just finish this thought" and held my hand up. She looked shocked and furious, but she has never interrupted me again. I think it was the combo of the embarrassment that it was in front of someone else plus the fact that she's now heard the feedback about interrupting from several of her reports via her 360 reviews. (She still interrupts other people though.)
posted by thebazilist at 10:35 PM on November 5, 2014


I'd be extremely weary of taking the advice of internet strangers here. We're not in your meeting, we don't know the cast of characters. Is there anyone you trust at work to discuss this with, preferably in a light tone.

That being said, I love dispensing advice I'm not qualified to give. I'd focus less on handling being interrupted and more on changing behaviors so you don't get interrupted in the first place. Experiment with talking a bit louder and more deliberately.
posted by earlsofsandwich at 11:31 AM on November 6, 2014


At my last job, I was the only man in my department. In our whole program, there were about 4 other men and none of us had management positions. That is to say, our meetings were attended by about thirty woman and 5 men. I say that to establish that rudeness is not the exclusive purvue of males. I was interrupted plenty of times - often right in the middle of a word - and not by the other men, if you know what I mean.

That being said, I don't think there is much you can do about it. I always tried to ask myself if what I was saying was all that important in the first place. What I think is important might not be all that important to others. If you think it's important and you're being interrupted by your equal on the organizational chart, and you feel bad about it, it's probably best to difuse it with humor. (like 'Feel free to interrupt me when you want' - with a slight laugh). If the person is above you, then you just take the interruption and file it away in your 'God don't I hate the boss' folder.

When I lived in Spain, there was a lot of interrupting in conversations, so maybe I learned to deal with it more. A good line that was used over there a lot was (translated): 'You know, when you were talking, I don't think I interrupted you once' - which is meant to be used when you're angry. Also, this is not meant to be used on the higher-ups.

In the end, interruption is part of the give and take of life with our fellow humans. Don't take it too personally.
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 5:48 AM on November 7, 2014


I work in an office of mostly women, and some of us are just as interrupt-y, and I've yet to see one of the few males get special treatment on that score, but that may be down to proportions.

There are two kinds of interruptions, I think: (1) genuine inadvertent ones: "I just had this awesome/urgent thought and must get it out there NOW" or when someone outside the conversation interrupts while entering; and (2) ones where the interrupter is just not paying attention to the interrupteee.

For the second kind, I agree with just keep talking over them, at a slightly more projected tone.

For the first kind, since they are usually loud/excited, I wait for them to finish, and then jump in with either "We'll pick up on that in a minute, but as I was saying" or just "AS I WAS SAYING...".

And when you interrupt someone, but especially if you counter-interrupt as I've just described, it's important to go back to that person. Otherwise polite people may be interrupting because they feel they won't get their point in otherwise; if everyone knows they will be gotten back to, they will be less likely to interrupt or pursue an interruption.
posted by sarahkeebs at 2:46 PM on November 8, 2014


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