Female Obama staffers in meeting

You might not be that familiar with the term, but if you’re a woman working in an office you’re probably quite familiar with the phenomenon. ‘Manterruption’ is the universal phenomenon of men interrupting women at work.

It happens everywhere from meetings in boardrooms and courtrooms to the US Senate, so you’re not alone. A recent study at Yale’s University suggests that women get more interrupted for speaking more than men with the same status. And it’s not the only research that concluded the same.Here’s what you can do to deal with manterruptions at work.

Interrupt the interrupter

A study titled Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversations (Zimmerman, West, 1975) analyzed 31 two-party conversations and revealed that in the male/female group, 48 interruptions occurred, 46 of them were ones in which a man interrupted a woman.

Another important study found that when orchestras used ‘blind’ auditions, the percentage of women advancing in screening stage increased by 50%.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it. You should only accept an interruption at work if it’s for clarification. Other than that, fight back.

When the interruption occurs, don’t be scared to push back. Simply interrupt the man who interrupted you and state clearly that you’re not done talking and that you would love to hear their feedback after you finish making your point.

For example, you can say something like: “There are a few points I still need to make, so can you please wait until I’m done?”

Interrupters don’t expect to be interrupted, that’s why this tactic can be very effective in big meetings where you have to fight to make your voice heard because you’re the only woman in the room.

Speak with confidence

Screenshot from Woman Interrupted video

So when you’re in a meeting, remember to speak with forceful conviction. Use the volume and tone of your voice to communicate authority. This doesn’t mean you should be shouting in the meeting room, but it does mean you should use language that exudes confidence and assertiveness.

Use words that show confidence in your opinion and pride in your work. For example, instead of using phrases like “I think” and “it might,” use “I know” and “it will.”

Use body language to your advantage

A study titled Interruptions and Nonverbal Gender Differences (Kennedy and Camden, 1983) found that men tend to interrupt women more often when they use defeated body language such as leaning away, smiling, and using minimal eye contact while speaking to someone.

This is why you should keep your chest open, back straight, and eye contact on-point when talking in a meeting. Look at the person you’re speaking to straight in the eye, even if it seems intimidating at first. You’ll get used to it with time.

Ask for a ‘no-interruption’ rule

Man and woman in meeting

After communicating the problem to the person responsible for making office rules (perhaps your immediate supervisor, department manager, or HR executive), ask for a rule that bans interruptions. A ‘no-interruption’ rule would stop anyone (man or woman) from interrupting anyone else during meetings or just when pitching new ideas.

when orchestras used 'blind' auditions, the percentage of women advancing in screening stage increased by 50%.Click To Tweet

Feel free to be creative with it and customize it however you want, according to which office situation you need it at the most. You can also suggest penalties for those who break the rule.

For example, you could have an interruption jar at the office (similar to a swear jar), and everyone has to pay 5 EGP for each interruption. You could also give each interrupter three strikes, after which they’re banned from speaking during a meeting until the end of the week.

Team up with a manterruption buddy

Female Obama staffers in meeting

A great way to stop men from interrupting you during a meeting is to have a team to put up a united front. Choose a coworker you trust (perhaps a friend or your boss) and tell them to back you up when a man interrupts you in a meeting or tries to take credit for an idea you said first.

Senior female staffers in the Obama administration used this meeting strategy, which they called “amplification.” When one of the women made a central point, the other women would repeat it in the meeting and give credit to the woman who said it first. This worked very well because it forced the men to acknowledge their contributions and left no room for someone else to take credit.

Show your boss proof

There’s an app called Woman Interrupted that helps you calculate how many times men interrupted you in a meeting.

Download it, use it, and show the proof to your boss and other coworkers. That way, they’ll be sure to believe that manterruptions are real and really need to be addressed. It might go a long way in instilling a ‘no-interruption’ rule in the office.

Manterruption is a real issue, even if it seems small to the outside observer. It bleeds into the larger issue of sexism in the workplace and it’s not something you should tolerate.

So make sure you push back the next time a man interrupts you at work. It’s these seemingly small actions of bravery that will contribute to women having more impact at work and reaching leadership positions.



Have you tried to stop the manterruptions before? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.



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