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Stop interrupters
September 12, 2017, 11:35 am

If you’re a woman working in any type of professional environment, you likely have experienced a similar (although maybe less pointed) form of disruption during a presentation or meeting at work. It’s well-established that women get interrupted more than men with studies confirming this fact dating back as early as 1975. But why is this, and how can you deal with it in a professional setting?

There’s still an idea that women should be seen but not heard; that they should wait their turns and act demurely. This extends to women being uncomfortable promoting themselves or tooting their own horns, versus men who have no discomfort in this arena. Unfortunately, this is part of why women are often passed over for promotions at work. 

It’s difficult to know how to respond to being interrupted, because a woman runs the risk that if she reacts assertively to being interrupted and say that she is not okay with it, she is reinforcing the stereotype of being aggressive. Here are some of the best methods for combatting this apparent gender bias in the workplace and to find the root of the problem.

Stop and wait: One strategy is for a woman to become silent once interrupted, and look the interrupter in the eye until they stop talking. This is a good tactic because it doesn’t reinforce any stereotype. Being silent is the opposite of being aggressive, while making eye contact lets your interrupter know that you’re aware of what they’re doing.

Take it offline: Another strategy is to simply take the offender aside privately and let them know that their interruptions are not okay. This tactic works better with someone who is your peer, since one treads more gingerly with one’s boss, and has to weigh the ramifications of pushing back versus conforming to the status quo more heavily. If you think your interrupter might not be aware of what they’re doing or that it’s disrespectful, this is the best strategy to take.

Fixing the bigger problem:  Most importantly, you want to attack the bias not the behavior. Getting your coworker to stop interrupting you at work won’t suddenly make people treat women equally in the professional world, but taking measures toward making women equal in the workplace will get them to stop interrupting you — for good. Research shows that work teams that are more diverse perform better; women are more competent when it comes to leadership skills, although men are more confident. The onus falls on employers to make sure they’re doing their part. Some ideas the employer can utilize to better the situation are to encourage women to speak up and be heard, call on them, have a no interruption rule and increase the number of women in leadership roles. These are all bias interrupters.


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