Someone being interrupted while they are speaking is nothing new. In fact, it happens quite often to both men and women. However, there is current research that shows that in conversations, men interrupt women more often than they interrupt other men and vice-versa.
The name given to this phenomenon is MANTERRUPTING. You may have seen or heard this term used in the news or on social media.
If you are a woman, you may have experienced manterrupting or “bropropriation” (men’s tendency to appropriate women’s comments and ideas as their own) first-hand, and you may not have been aware that there was an official name for the experience.
Manterrupting can occur anywhere; social status does not guarantee immunity. Women in positions at the highest levels of the United States government, including the Supreme Court and Capitol Hill, have experienced it.
Two of the most recent and highly publicized examples occurred this year to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. During his verbal shutdown and admonishment on the Senate Floor of Senator Warren, in February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unintentionally coined a now-famous quote that triggered an onslaught of social media memes: “She was warned. She was given an explanation, Nevertheless, she persisted.” Last month, during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ congressional testimony, Senator Harris was talked over by two male colleagues—including Sessions himself, who said that Harris’ questioning was “making him nervous.”
The act of men interrupting, over-talking or talking over women has less to do with poor manners and more to do with social, gender-based micro-aggressions—those seemingly innocuous verbal or non-verbal slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, meant to communicate negative, hostile or derogatory messages toward women.
In her 2011 paper Who Takes the Floor and Why: Gender, Power, and Volubility in Organizations, Yale professor and social psychologist Victoria Brescoll explains that a person’s volubility—the amount of time a person spends talking in group settings—is an important feature of social interaction and plays a role in establishing power within a group and communicating that power to others.
Here are some suggestions of how women can navigate this system by changing the way they communicate and interact with men.
Avoid using tentative language when speaking by eliminating tags and qualifiers and swap them out for more assertive language; for example:
“The presentation was great wasn’t it?” versus “The presentation was great!”
“I don’t really want to go to lunch right now.” versus “I don’t want to go to lunch right now.”
With the inclusion of the qualifier “really,” the speaker appears unassertive and seems to lack authority. Without the qualifier, the statement is firm and not up for debate.
Other tentative words and phrases to avoid are: “I think,” “maybe,” “sorry,” “just” and asking a question after making a statement such as, “does that make sense?”
IT’S ALL ABOUT TONE
Do not turn a declarative statement into a question by raising the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence. This way of speaking, called “up talk,” is considered a signal that the speaker is questioning themselves or seeking approval.
USE VERBAL AND NON-VERBAL CUES
If you are “manterrupted,” it is perfectly fine to say “please let me finish my thought” and raise an open hand to indicate to the interrupter that you need them to take a pause.
ASK FOR HELP
These suggestions will not stop manterruptions altogether, but they can place you on the right track to making sure that you are heard when you are occupying a seat at the table.
If you find manterrupting too intimidating, you may want to seek the assistance of a professional. The California Department of Consumer Affairs licenses professional psychologists and therapists through the Board of Psychology and the Board of Behavioral Sciences. Before selecting a professional, you can check the license status via the appropriate board’s website or by clicking here.