Are You Constantly Being Interrupted?

On the recent Democratic debates, policies didn’t grab as much attention as expected, instead, the impolite violations of etiquette, aka, interrupting became center stage. Is interrupting different for men and women? With the largest number of women ever on the debate stage vying for the nation’s top job, it’s no surprise that their male counterparts interrupted more than the women did. The female candidates tended to wait politely for their turn. Yup, another example of what studies show, women too often tend to do, wait to speak up, while men do not. Yet, it’s double bind, because when women do interrupt, we’re often criticized for being too assertive, and for well… interrupting.

As a professional woman with decades of business and leadership experience and having been part of a generation who broke the glass ceiling, Susan B. Hitchcock, B.A., Board Member and Executive Director of Women’s Initiatives, believes this is definitely an issue for many professional women, particularly for those who interact with male colleagues or peers in various situations, encounter the same dilemma.

“All too often, women who speak up and speak out, and who demonstrate confidence in their ideas are judged as overly assertive or aggressive.” Hitchcock says this is true especially if the women are as forceful or more forceful than the men in their circle of influence. “Conversely, a woman who is more contemplative or less assertive is simply talked over or ignored, and is seen as less of a leader,” she says.

“This is a super interesting issue and I think it’s important to understand and dive in, more,” adds Carolyn (Lyn) Turknett, Turknett Leadership Group Co-founder. “We also know that women are interrupted more often than men, as seen in this research. Obviously, it’s an issue culturally within organizations, but the patterns are deeply ingrained, and tough to change,” adds Turknett.

So, what do we do?

Let’s consider the following… In the situation where a man interrupts you or literally buts in continually, one way Hitchcock advises us to respond would be to say this: “John, using your example just now, let me interrupt you and interject this….” I think it makes the point rather well and can be repeated as necessary. 

“Caveats are — stay calm, show respect, but do not ignore this pattern of behavior. Women have every right to be seen and heard and should not be judged differently than a man for our tone or for being equally and appropriately forceful and assertiveness,” says Hitchcock.

Turknett believes women need to learn finely tuned assertiveness skills that allow them to speak assertively but not in a way that seems too aggressive. It’s a very fine line. She explains, “If they interrupt they likely have to do it in different ways. Not “fair” but it is what it is —and we keep working to raise awareness.”

This is an issue worth more discussion. Do you agree? Let us know what you think. Email our editor as we continue to understand the why of this matter and strategize solutions, so we can continue to build a firm and elegant foundation for women across our nation.

“The only real elegance is in the mind; If you’ve got that, the rest really comes from it.” -Diana Vreeland

By Mavian Arocha-Rowe, Editor
Photo by Kristina Flour

Share this Article