Excuse me, I am speaking!
I'll be honest and say that I had to lean in on the Leanin.org 50 Ways to Fight Bias cards for today's topic: women or people of color being frequently interrupted when they are giving a presentation and/or stating an argument. My vlog talks about a personal experience I have had, but I think I can do you one better. Take a look at this very public example...
The October 2020 Vice Presidential Debate is probably the best example I can give you: Vice President Mike Pence interrupted Kamala Harris as she attempted to discuss Joe Biden's tax plan. She laughed at the absurdity of his interruptions and said, "Mr. Vice President, I am speaking.", and then continued to repeat that sentence calling him out multiple times for interrupting her. Regardless of your political affiliations, gender, sexual identify, race, it is never ok to interrupt someone when they are speaking. If you take a look at this clip you will notice that it is hard to follow Vice President Harris's points. I think back to meetings where I have seen this happen and I remember how difficult it is to understand the message when the person speaking is constantly being interrupted. Not only that but it can come across as if you are questioning the person's judgement or knowledge on a specific topic.
I used to work with a male colleague who would constantly speak over me in meetings but, as soon as a man started speaking he would say, "Oh I apologize for interrupting you.". I would look around the room thinking to myself, this didn't just happen, did it? To this day I beat myself up for never sticking up for myself, reinserting myself back into the conversation and saying, "Excuse me, I am speaking!". I have to make a conscious effort to do this for myself and others when this happens in an everyday situation, but I often question why I have to do that in the first place. Were we all really raised so differently?
Here are a few observations I have made over the years:
- If you don't speak confidently, people will assume you don't believe in what you are saying and thus think it is ok to speak over you.
- If you are hunched over in your chair or slouched like a teenager, you don't look confident. Body language matters - sit up straight and lean into the conversation. It shows you are both self-assured and engaged.
- It's ok to politely and professionally say, "Excuse me, if you would please let me finish speaking then I think I will be able to answer most of your questions or concerns."
The problem with all of this is that, in reality, these things shouldn't matter. No matter how soft-spoken you are, it shouldn't be an excuse for someone to trample over you. We often find ourselves on an island when we experience these situations, as if we are being interrogated during a cross-examination in a court of law. Typically you will stare into about 30 eyes all waiting to see how you are going to react. While you can take the steps above to learn how to better position yourself for success in these situations, there is one great measure that you can take for others because, after all, it is important to stick up for our colleagues.
When you witness this type of behavior, I encourage you to look the individual in the eye and tell them, "I find it very difficult to listen to this presentation or argument when the speaker is constantly being interrupted. I think we might be able to address some of your concerns if you would just let her speak." Sticking up for your colleague will not only make them feel like they have someone on their side in the room, but it will send the message to the entire team and that individual that you value their opinion. Sometimes change will happen a lot more quickly when you lead by example...
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