Do you even notice how much you get interrupted? Here’s a suggestion: Think about it next time you’re at work or in a social situation.
Then do something about it.
During the first of this season’s presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it was hard to ignore Trump constantly, aggressively stepping on Clinton’s sentences. Television cameras and mics picked up each of his “manterruptions”—a term that’s sprung up precisely because women tend to get interrupted more often than men, as studies have shown.
It’s just one example of the pervasive verbal habits that make women’s voices harder to hear, especially in workplaces. Some women are trying to change that: To deal with another aspect of the same problem—women’s ideas being brushed over, ignored, or stolen—women at the Obama White House developed a strategy they called “amplification.” When a woman made a good point, another woman would repeat it, giving credit to the original speaker.
All this made me wonder, do I even notice when I’m interrupted? I decided to do an experiment. When someone interrupted me, I’d just continue to speak, instead of giving way to help the conversation flow more smoothly.
The result? It’s awkward. Two people carry on speaking for too long, it feels wrong, and for those moments no one gets heard.
But it’s effective in that it makes the interruption painfully obvious. And it does so without causing a scene: Creating a moment of awkwardness isn’t aggressive, so no one has to get defensive, or go out on a limb to point out that they’ve been silenced. Still, it subtly shifts the atmosphere in a room.
And the experiment made me notice that some people are much more likely to interrupt than others. This could be for several reasons, and they’re certainly not all power plays related to gender or dominance. Some people are just exuberant, for example. But no matter the intention, the effect is generally to silence the person who is interrupted.
Hillary Clinton seemed to employ a similar strategy during the first US presidential debate, powering through plenty of Trumpterruptions. Most interrupters aren’t so persistent as the GOP candidate.
But next time you’re interrupted, try not shutting up—putting aside social grace for a moment, and allowing it to be awkward. It can be instructive.