Thanks to this delightful election cycle (and by "delightful" I mean "vile"), I’ve been hearing the words “manterruption" and "mansplaining” every five minutes. In the next few installments, I’ll be offering some techniques and tools for women on the receiving end of these behaviors. And to our male allies, read on! The more you know, the more progress we can make together.
Let's start with manterrupting, shall we?
Manterrupting: For Real??
The whole concept of “manterrupting” has been around for a while, but it was brought into sharper focus during the first presidential debate this year. Some of you may be wondering, is manterrupting really a thing? Or is this something feminists have dreamed up to marginalize men?
Unfortunately, it is real. Here is an article that highlights 7 different studies that show manterruption is a real phenomenon. When you net it all out, the research shows that women are interrupted far more often than men are and we are actually considered less competent the more we speak up. Yet another lovely double-bind (see Hair(shirt) Day) us gals find ourselves in.
So what’s a woman to do?
We have options.
Door Number One: We can choose to disengage in frustration at the notion that we have to do anything. I mean, seriously? We get paid less, we get interrupted more, and we get looked down on for just trying to finish a thought?! What the hell?
Door Number Two: We can decide to engage and be the change we are trying to create in this world. For better or worse, we are all in this together. Man, woman, gay, straight, introvert, extrovert, old, young, black, white and a million shades of in-between. And as exhausting as it may be, if we want change, we have to stay in the game and deal with each other.
So, if you’re up for Door Number Two (because let’s face it, we all have Door Number One days), here are a few of my favorite strategies for combatting manterruptions:
Excellence is the Air We Breathe. I’d like to quote something from the Book of Oprah: “Excellence is the best deterrent to racism.” Personally, I think this applies to any ism. Excellence doesn’t spend time worrying about how stacked the odds are against us. Excellence doesn’t require genius or heaping amounts of natural talent. It means giving it everything we’ve got. Excellence looks for a way through and across, no matter what.
Does a lack of excellence cause the sexism? Absolutely not. Does excellence act as a guarantee that we won’t experience sexism? Nope. But it is a powerful tool to use in the face of sexism.
As Steve Martin says, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Without excellence on our side, the path to equality becomes damn near impossible.
Persistent Positive Regard. No matter what happens, assume that only the best intentions are at play across the table. To use Brené Brown’s language, assume that everyone around you is doing the best they can with what they know. If you get manterrupted, assume that he has no idea he’s manterrupting.
In fact, the same could be said in the ongoing drama between introverts and extroverts. Introverts could just as easily brand this phenomenon as being “extro-rrupted” by a mouthy extrovert.
Maintaining persistent positive regard means that you don’t take bad behavior personally, you don’t get angry, and BONUS! you retain access to the fullness of your cognitive abilities. In contrast, if you DO take things personally and get flustered and angry, bad things happen (see You Tawkin’ Ta Me?). You go into flight, fight, or freeze mode. Flight makes us abandon ourselves and our goals in fear. Freeze makes us shut down. Fight makes an enemy of a colleague.
Make Them Aware. Most of the manterrupters in our lives are not making a conscious choice to interrupt. That’s where you come in. You are in a position to take them from the murky waters of unconscious behavior into the clear, pristine view of Awareness.
Part of the problem for many of us is that we don’t have a good script, or set of phrases that allow us to gracefully make the interrupter aware. We give ourselves two equally crappy options: 1) I stand up for myself, finish my thought, and be accused of being whiny or bitchy (hey double standard!) or 2) I let the interrupter win and lose my chance to speak, so I can still be seen as a team player.
This, friends, is a false choice. I humbly submit that there are ways to regain the floor when we’ve been interrupted while also side-stepping the trap of the double standard.
I use this one when the interruption has JUST happened—like within a second:
- “Let me just finish this thought…” Most people respect the inalienable right to finish a thought. And they feel embarrassed when they realize they’ve amputated your thought. So just gently remind them you ARE mid-thought.
Use this one if the interruption happened earlier in the meeting and you never got to speak your piece or share your idea.
- “Before we end, I want to make sure we are considering X…”
- or… “I know we closed on this, but I’m wondering if Y could also be useful here.”
Learn From the Losses. Ask for feedback from people you trust—male and female. If you brought up a salient point in a meeting and it was trampled on, or you were interrupted mid-sentence, ask a teammate to debrief with you afterwards.
What did they notice about the dynamics at play that you might have missed? Do they have feedback about your delivery? Are there ways to strengthen your skills when posing an argument? Do you need to practice good micro-storytelling? Do you need to work on staying calm and strong under pressure? Are you passing what I call the “smart phone test” when you speak—in other words, how badly do people want to reach for their smartphones when you start talking?
We can’t control what other people do, but we sure as hell can control how we communicate, and we can work to improve and strengthen our communication skills.
Excellence. All day long.
The Exceptions to the Rule I’ve mentioned a few times that most of the men in our lives mean well, and aren’t consciously trying to interrupt us. But of course, there is that percentage of the population who DO NOT mean well. The Bullies. The Office Sociopaths. The Full-Fledged AHoles. Those people require you take all of the steps above, initially. The Bully/Office Sociopath will reveal himself to you, and will render all of these techniques absolutely useless. The Office Bully requires a completely different set of skills—and to be clear, bullies come in all genders (and political affiliations). But that’s a blog topic for a future post.
As they said back in the 1930s, Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astair did, but backwards and in heels. Sometimes, even in 2016, it can feel like we are doing the same thing.
That’s because we are.
But it is worth it, friends.
Progress and equality are always worth the effort.
And if we keep at it, hopefully in the very near future, we will be dancing in our own direction, maybe even barefoot.
Next week : Mansplaining, then onto Bro-propriations. Fun fun fun!