Career AdviceSelf Improvement

How to Deal With Being Interrupted As a woman

posted on November 20, 2019 | by Sanhita Mukherjee

How to Deal With Being Interrupted As a woman

If there is one thing I detest more than mansplaining, it is being interrupted.

It has happened to most of us at some point. Think of a time when you worked really hard on a presentation. You get into the meeting, introduce your topic, present your data — and then, right when you are in the middle of pitching your brilliant idea, someone cuts you off to make an observation that you were going to address in a bit anyway. Frustrating, isn’t it? And it doesn’t always have to be a high-stakes scenario — it is just as annoying when you are in the middle of telling a funny story and you’re cut off right before you get to the punchline.

Being consistently interrupted can make a person feel undermined and can genuinely discourage them from sharing their thoughts. Now, everybody hates being interrupted. But the reason I am talking about it in the same breath as mansplaining is because it can often be a gendered issue — multiple studies have shown that women are more likely to get interrupted than men.

So (given that shushing someone is not usually an acceptable social response in most cases) what do you do the next time you are interrupted?

Call it out

From a very young age, girls are taught to be polite more than anything else — and it is a lesson we carry well into adulthood. When we are interrupted, we often end up swallowing our frustration and just politely wait for the next pause in the conversation so that we can get back to what we were saying.

However, in a professional or academic setting, people who don’t speak up are more likely to get overlooked, so it is important to call out interruptions as they happen. Simple statements like “Please let me finish” or “I’m not done” can go a long way in making yourself heard. If it is a situation that you cannot afford to get confrontational (like a high-stakes meeting or a job interview) try saying something like “Great point — let me come back to that in a bit” and continue what you were saying. Avoid using apologetic language when you do this. Remember — you’re the one in the right here, so you have nothing to be sorry for!

Take back control of the conversation

When you are interrupted, there is a high chance that the conversation gets completely derailed and the focus shifts to something that the other person wants to discuss. By the time you manage to get back the floor, you’ve lost your train of thought — which, obviously, is not great if you are in an important meeting.

Before this happens, it is necessary to regain control of the conversation. Make a mental note of what you were just about to say or jot it down on your phone if you can. Then, before the topic shifts to something quite unrelated, jump in with a statement like “Before we move on to that, there are still a few more points I’d like to cover before I wrap up.” (Yes, interrupting someone is wrong, but in this case, you are justified!) Reiterate the last point you made before you were cut off, and then go on to finish what you were saying.

Set expectations beforehand

Interruptions don’t always occur when the other person is rude or clueless — they can also happen with mismatched expectations. The way we work has changed quite drastically over the last decade. Meetings are now more collaborative affairs where people are expected to jump in with their own ideas and brainstorm together.

So if you are giving a long presentation, or are in a situation where you would like to share your thoughts uninterrupted, make sure your colleagues know that before you begin. It might be helpful for everyone if you set out an agenda right at the start. Let people know approximately how long the presentation will take and what points it would cover — and finish off by mentioning that you would be happy to address any questions in the last 10 minutes. Once your colleagues know that you have made room on the agenda for them to voice their opinions, they are less likely to jump in with questions or observations.

Have a one-on-one chat

If you notice a pattern with one particular person who consistently interrupts you, it might be more effective to have a one-on-one discussion with them. People who are in the habit of interrupting others often don’t even realize they’re doing it. Maybe they are simply enthusiastic and can’t wait for you to finish before they respond. Maybe they are operating on certain biases that unconsciously make them devalue your opinions.

A private conversation gives you a better opportunity to be more frank with them, without them getting defensive. Let them know how their interruptions make you feel, and state that while you value their inputs, you’d prefer it if they waited until you were done. If they genuinely did not realize they were doing this, they may be surprised, and may even appreciate the fact that you brought it to their notice.

How have you handled interruptions — both at work and in your personal life?