Published on January 2nd, 2017 | by Nancy F. Clark0
Gal Interrupted, Why Men Interrupt Women And How To Avert This In The Workplace
By Leslie Shore—
From the kindergarten classroom to the corporate boardroom, men and women are socialized to communicate differently. Unfortunately, instead of taking advantage of this inherent diversity in a way that might facilitate camaraderie and creativity in the workplace, we often find colleagues at odds with one another because of their different inter-personal communication styles. The most problematic issue that arises from this discrepancy is the disproportionate number of times that men interrupt women.
According to world-renowned gender communication expert Deborah Tannen, men speak to determine and achieve power and status. Women talk to determine and achieve connection. Given that in American society speaking is considered the power position, it is no wonder that men interrupt to take the floor more often. In using conversation to enhance connection, women are much less likely to interrupt, as it is seen as disrespectful.
Numerous studies support the claim of women in the workforce who argue that men interrupt them far more often than the reverse. A study titled “Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversations” by Don Zimmerman and Candace West, sociologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that “…there are definite and patterned ways in which the power and dominance enjoyed by men in other contexts are exercised in their conversational interaction with women.” In this study, the authors analyzed 31 two-party conversations that they had tape recorded in public places such as cafes, drug stores, and university campuses. Of the 31 conversations, 10 were between two men, 10 between two women, and 11 between and man and a woman. In the two same-sex groups combined, the authors found seven instances of interruption. In the male/female group, however, they found 48 interruptions, 46 of which were instances of a man interrupting a woman.
It was shown in a 2014 study at George Washington University that when men were talking with women, they interrupted 33 percent more often than when they were talking with men. The men interrupted their female conversational partners 2.1 times during a three minute conversation. That number dropped to 1.8 when they spoke to other men. The women in the study rarely interrupted their male counterparts—an average of once in a three minute dialogue.
Can anything change this dynamic? It is doubtful that men or women will change their way of being altogether. However, there are a few things both men and women can do to overcome this unconscious bias in the workplace.
Men, think twice before you interrupt. Are you interrupting to become the speaker and gain power? How will you look to everyone else in the room? Are you interrupting to get clarity? If so, make sure you ask a clear question and allow the speaker to regain the floor. Are you interrupting because you think you will forget what you want to say? Jot key words on your notepad for use later, instead of interrupting. Google exec, Eric Schmidt, will undoubtedly think twice since he was called out for interrupting the only woman on a panel, “Don’t Manterrupt When A Woman Is Talking About Corporate Diversity.” That instance was a big step forward—bringing an unconscious bias to the spotlight.
Women, if you are interrupted for any reason other than someone asking for clarification, say to the interrupter, “There are a few more essential points I need to make. Can you delay a moment while I do that?” or “I know I will appreciate your feedback, but can you hold off until I’m done?” Use strategies that men already use. Use shorter sentences so your breaths in between aren’t as long, making it harder to interrupt, and speak with conviction using words like ‘know’ instead of ‘believe’ and ‘will’ instead of ‘might.’ Carol Kennedy and Carl Camden’s study on “Interruptions and Nonverbal Gender Differences” found that men tended to interrupt women more often when they lean away, smile and don’t look at the person they are speaking to. So look ‘em in the eye, lean in and take yourself seriously if you want to be heard.
Finally, give each other a break. Interruptions are rarely meant to be personal. What is important to remember is that our communication norms are different, so let’s learn what that means and help each other through the rough spots with civil discourse and listening.
Leslie Shore is a Communication Expert and the author of Listen to Succeed: How to identify and overcome barriers to effective listening.
Article photo by Cole Camplese