“Speak boldly and with intellect. Never hush your voice for someone’s comfort. Speak your mind.” – Unknown
A New York Times Article, After the Election Some Women Assert Themselves With Small Gestures, got me thinking about what women can do to ensure their impact in the workplace does not regress. While there are many things to be done, I believe it is critical, now more than ever, that women ensure their voices are heard, considered and respected. Indeed, women need to start speaking up and stop being interrupted.
Granted this call to action is certainly not new. Study after study has shown that women are interrupted more than men; that men speak significantly more in meetings than women do (one study found they account for 75% of conversation); that even when women speak less they are perceived to have spoken more; and that male execs who talk more than their peers are viewed to be more competent, while female execs are viewed as less competent. So while it is not a unique call to action, our developing political climate makes this an even more essential call to action.
Too many of us see this phenomenon too often: a women allowing a man to cut her off mid-sentence, surrendering her opportunity to fully communicate her point. As women, we may not feel comfortable confronting the interrupter as we don’t want to appear aggressive or defensive, feeling we are always on the precipice of being labeled the dreaded “b word”. There were times I became so frustrated with an interrupter that I would blurt out “Don’t interrupt me!” (and sometimes I would even put my hand in the air like a stop sign), and that did sound aggressive and defensive given I was forcefully highlighting the interrupter’s negative action rather than my positive desire to fully express my point. I learned by watching others how to better handle interruptions. There are two phrases I found worked well:
“Joe, I want to hear your views but I would like to make sure you fully understand mine – so please let me continue.”
“With all due respect, Joe, please allow me to continue so that we both understand each other’s perspective.”
Phrases such as these allow women to stand their ground and be heard, while acknowledging the other person’s desire to also be heard. For further effect, once a woman has finished expressing her view, she can then ask the interrupter for his perspective and then demonstrate “intent listening” to model the behavior she is seeking from him.
To make even more progress on this effort, women (and men) should support other women in conversations by calling out the interrupter and respectfully stating that they would like to hear the woman finish her thoughts. The same types of phrases suggested above can be used in the third person. The most effective method for ensuring women are heard in a meeting is for the person leading the meeting to ask that people allow others to speak without interruption, and then, importantly, to model that behavior. One leader at AB started his team’s off-site by sharing the research that women were interrupted more often than men in meetings, and then requesting all attendees refrain from interrupting each other. He then went even further by proactively seeking out the women participants’ views and opinions throughout the meeting. The women were so appreciative of the gesture that they felt not only the freedom, but the responsibility, to share their views with candor and frankness.
Now more than ever, it is critical that women stand up and voice their opinions. We must hold on to the belief and the conviction that our perspectives are valuable, worthy and needed in the workplace. Let’s work with each other and our male colleagues to ensure our voices are heard.