How to crush interruptions and win at meetings infographic with pink and turquoise background, sharing statistics on language, gender and interruptions, including sources

How To Crush Interruptions and Win at Meetings

Here’s the good news – you’re not imagining it. You ARE being interrupted more, more frequently and more aggressively than other people in the room. Why? Why on earth do they come with interruptions when you have so many fantastic things to say? Because, folks, unfortunately you’ve made the classic mistake of being a woman in the conversation. Silly you! 

Interruptions – The Sad


Don’t believe me? OK, there’s some bad news too. It’s backed up by studies that span decades of research and keep coming up with the same disappointing facts. In a Harvard study on gender and interruptions, more than 90% of interruptions were by men. Linguistics professor Deborah Tannen also found that men interrupt to assert dominance in a conversation (which is why they tend to steal the floor instead of joining in to hype you up like your girlfriends),  “while women will hold back to preserve relationships.” 

What’s more, it’s not just your average gal pals who are living the interruption life either. This goes all the way to the top! That’s right, even in the Supreme Court of Justice of the United States research shows “women still do not have an equal opportunity to be heard in the highest court in the land.” In a 12 year study, it turns out the ladies running the highest court in the land were three times more likely to suffer interruptions than the men doing the same job.

How to crush interruptions and win at meetings infographic with pink and turquoise background, sharing statistics on language, gender and interruptions, including sources
A handy infographic for spontaneous feminist debate. Zoom in for sources – it was soooo difficult to fit everything in such a small space!

So, now that you know it’s not just your imagination, what oh what can you do to combat this interruption plague? Rest easy friends, here are six tried and tested ways to put that interruptor back in his box and finish your (what I can only assume was) tremendously important sentence…

Attack is the Best Form of Defence Against Interruptions

Have you ever been at a talk where the speaker begins by saying they will indeed take questions… at the end of the presentation? Reading between the lines, what they’re saying is ‘interruptions will be punished… severely’. This! This is the energy you can bring into your meetings, presentations, opinionated monologues to ward off any pesky interruptions. Set the tone, let people know how you expect to be treated and be pleasantly surprised when you get to the end of your sentence all in one go.

A Dose of Their Own Medicine

Imagine this, you’re in full flow delivering literally the most brilliant point anyone has ever made, when suddenly a man (statistically speaking) pipes up and tries to cut you off. Right here in this moment it’s critical you remember this fact… men tend to interrupt to assert dominance.

Now that doesn’t mean he’s a dick. The gendered way we raise kids means your interrupter is just using the linguistic patterns he’s been taught all his life. But, you’re smart. You can use his linguistic pattern to your advantage. If (when) you’re interrupted, get in there and interrupt him right back. Do it girl. And don’t you dare apologise for it either. “I’ll just finish my point, thank you” or “I’d love to hear your ideas. We’ll get to them once I’ve finished”. Show him, in the verbal style he understands, that you in fact are the Supreme Leader of speaking right now. Fight fire with fire, linguistically speaking.

An Interrupter Says What?

Did you know a sneaky little conversation hack is to always be the person in the room asking questions? By directing the flow of the conversation you kind of become the unofficial boss of the chat. As a bonus you end up seeming even more intelligent than you already are. Winning.

Folks, you’ve got to leverage this! When someone buts in with an unwelcome interruption, interrupt them back. This time though, flip the script by asking someone else a (suddenly very urgent) question. Sure, it still blocks your own flow, but by opening the conversation up to the floor you’ve successfully wrestled it away from that greedy interrupter. You’ve maintained some modicum of control over the conversation. Now, go ahead and finish your amazing sentence and wow the pants off everyone.

Watch Your Language to Ward Off Interruptions

Do you know what Hedging is? It might sound like some fancy sex thing, but I can assure you it’s far less titillating. Hedging is actually adding little words or phrases to your sentence to soften it up. Instead of “I don’t agree” it’d be more like “I think I don’t agree really”. The thing is, is that women and men do it for different reasons. According to a study by Coates, women add softeners to be kind and create a more collaborative vibe in the chat. Men more typically use them to save face and gain status. Men also use them far less than women because we teach boys and men to value competition over collaboration. Subconsciously they see hedging as a sign of weakness – an opportunity for an interruption!

Long story short, it’s almost like we’re speaking a different language. And that’s fine sometimes. But gender stereotypes are usually more limiting than affirming. Ask yourself this, does it always serve you to use language to make yourself smaller, softer, nicer? Swap out a few hedges like ‘I think’ ‘it might’ for ‘I know’ and ‘it will’ and see if you don’t get to the end of your fantastic sentence for once.

Watch Your Body Language too

So you’ve put all of this advice into practice… but for some reason you still can’t get to the end of your sentence without an interruption. What’s the deal? Did you know that the words you choose to use actually only make up about 7% of the message that gets to your listeners? The rest is non-verbal communication. That’s 93%! More than a third of that is voice and tone. About 55% of it is our old friend body language. What is your body saying to the people in the room that your Power Point isn’t? 

A study by Kennedy & Camden found “men tend to interrupt women more often when they use body language such as leaning away, smiling, and using minimal eye contact” Now that doesn’t mean you have to stop smiling altogether. Could you even imagine the dreariness? No, this means physically and psychologically, lean in to the conversation. State your claim as the owner of a complete sentence with the intention of delivering it in its entirety. And proceed to do so.

Interruptions – A Thing Of the Past?

So there you have it folks. In an ideal world we would all be able to speak without interruption, but let’s be honest, this world is far from ideal. We’re hard at work building a feminist future. In the meantime if you’d like to speak your mind without having to wrestle your listeners, give these interruption tactics a go and let me know if anything changes.

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