Hear Me Out
“Speak boldly and with intellect. Never hush your voice for someone’s comfort. Speak your mind.” — Unknown
Divisiveness is growing across businesses, politics and communities. It seems we are talking at each other, rather than to each other, and we are lecturing rather than engaging. Many voices need to be heard and thoughtfully considered in order to drive towards understanding, collaboration and resolution.
It is critical, now more than ever, that all voices are heard, considered and respected, including those of women. Indeed, women need to start speaking up and stop being interrupted.
This call to action is certainly not new.
Study after study show that women are interrupted more often than men.
Indeed, studies show 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.
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 blurted 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 other women how to better handle interruptions. Here 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 and engagement in order 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 meeting leader to ask that people allow others to speak without interruption, and then, importantly, to model that behavior.
One leader I worked with 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.
It is critical that women voice their perspectives. We must embrace the belief and the conviction that our viewpoints and opinions are valuable, worthy and needed. Let’s work with each other and men to ensure our colleagues and community hear us out.