Two Google execs have been pulled up for speaking over a female panellist, during a discussion on diversity. Claire Cohen offers some tips on how you can avoid being interrupted at work
Here’s a story to make you cringe. On Monday, during a debate, two men were called out for constantly interrupting a female panellist .
The topic they were discussing? The lack of women involved in the tech industry and how they could encourage greater engagement.
The incident occurred at the annual South by Southwest music, film and interactive conference – this year taking place in Austin, Texas.
During a discussion on diversity in tech, Google executives Eric Schmidt and Walter Isaacson were criticised for talking over US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith.
An audience member asked: “Given that unconscious bias research tells us that women are interrupted a lot more than men, I’m wondering if you are aware that you have interrupted Megan many more times?”
What’s more, reports suggest that the asker was head of Google’s unconscious bias team, Judith Williams.
Of course, this is a familiar story.
We’ve all met those people at work – the ones who ask you for an opinion, before bulldozing over it with their own ideas (or, if you’re really lucky, trying to pass yours off as their own).
And it’s something that traditionally affects women more than men. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg addressed the issue in The New York Times earlier this year :
“When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope,” she said. “Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive.
“When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.”
Simply, being talked over can make workers feel under-valued, not listened to and like they’re being micro-managed.
Well, we at Telegraph Wonder Women want to put a stop to these time-stealers. But how?
It’s a double edged sword. You don’t want to be plain rude to the interrupter (thereby sinking to their level). But the ability to communicate well is key to professional success. And you can’t communicate well if you’re constantly being talked over.
Here are a few practical ways you can hit an interrupter where it hurts.
1) Send a message
“There are so many tactics you can use here – which one to pick really depends on the kind of dialogue and the personality of the interrupter,” explains Citymothers founder Louisa Symington-Mills. “But in general terms, the first step is to avoid sending a message that you can be interrupted.”
This means trying to keep pauses short, maintaining your momentum as you speak and keeping your voice loud and clear. Lowering your tone can also add gravitas and authority to what you’re saying. Project people, project.
2) Ditch eye contact
Interrupters thrive on opportunity. Avoiding their gaze denies them the permission to jump in – and means you won’t be distracted, lose your train of thought and hesitate just long enough for an interruption.
Symington-Mills agrees: “If a serial interrupter is in the room and you can feel they’re itching to have their say, don’t give them the benefit of eye contact.”
3) Don’t out-awkward them
The interrupter has no self-awareness. Otherwise they wouldn’t be barging in over your opinion in the first place. A stand-off – where you keep talking and neither party gives in – is just embarrassing. You can’t out-awkward someone who doesn’t have the ability to feel awkward in the first place.
Symington-Mills suggests: “If they jump in anyway, rather than simply keeping talking over them why not go for something like: ‘I’m sorry, I’d really like to hear your views but I have more to say that may affect your thoughts further, so please let me finish’.
Preferably rounded off with a raised eyebrow and ice-cold glare.
4) Interrupt the interrupter
If someone has a habit of interrupting you in a group situation? Use it to your advantage. Ask others to chip in their opinions too – meaning the interrupters point (which they presumably think is much more worthwhile than yours) is drowned out in a sea of opinions. In this instance, we fully condone the concept of brainstorming.
5) Set the agenda
If you’ve got the floor, now is the time to outline the points you intend to make.
“An alternative approach, if you’re expecting to deliver a longer talk, is to frame the outline at the start,” says Symington-Mills. “State that what you’re going to say has many elements to it and you’d like to cover each, before welcoming feedback afterwards.”
By doing this, you’re setting the interrupter up to appear rude and making it clear that you won’t tolerate their interjections. Boom.
6) Schedule meetings
If your problem isn’t so much that you’re being talked over – rather that a colleague (possibly your boss) is constantly chipping into your day, here’s what to do.
Sit down with them and suggest that you formalise a time to talk daily, in order to catch-up. Explain that you both need time to work uninterrupted during periods of the day and propose a regular meeting as a solution to this. Ideally, your evil plan will soon work wonders, as you both realise that sitting down together day-in day-out just isn’t necessary and is, in fact, wasting precious time. Suggest the meetings be reduced to three times a week. Relax.
This article was written by Claire Cohen from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.