SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim shares some ways to improve your communication with everyone and make sure every person feels respected.
I have noticed lately that many of the men at work and in other meetings I attend interrupt me, cut me off, or talk down to me and the other women in those groups. I am just curious to know if you think there is anything we can do to garner more respect and/or change this? Should we say something when this happens or try to ignore it?
Women are often talked over, interrupted or shut down in conversation, especially in environments where they are outnumbered by men. A study from George Washington University found that men were 33% more likely to interrupt women than they were to interrupt other men.
Another study, from researchers at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, found that this even happens to female Supreme Court Justices, like the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Researchers examined 15 years of court transcripts to see how often men, either justices or advocates, interrupted the female justices. Over the last 12 years (when women have comprised only 24% of the bench) female justices being interrupted by men accounted for 32% of interruptions, while female justices interrupting men accounted for only 4% of interruptions.
According to Jessica Bennett, a gender editor at the New York Times, it is not just men who interrupt women. Other women are also more prone to interrupt women, and people of color and LGBTQ+ people fare even worse. The sad truth is we subconsciously see some people as less valuable or less important, and this shows up in the way we communicate.
I believe the crucial first step is committing to see all human beings as having the same value and demonstrating this belief in how we talk to them. Every person deserves to be heard and respected. We must see all human beings as equals, listen without interrupting, and honor their right to think differently than we do.
Obviously, there are also situations where the opposite is true and women interrupt or talk over men. The point of the article is to make us all better at respectful communication.
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Practical ways you can be part of the solution
1. Stop before interrupting someone. If you feel the urge to interrupt someone, ask yourself, "Do I just want to ask a quick question to clarify what they are saying? Am I going to invite them to continue afterward, or do I think what I have to say is more important than this person?" If the latter is is the case, choose to keep quiet.
2. Check yourself before giving advice. Before you advise another person ask yourself, "Is there any chance I am explaining something to this person that they already know?" If you think there is any chance they might already know this information, don't insult them by telling them. You could also ask them directly if they would be open to some advice?
3. Ask permission before you share an idea or suggestion, or give advice. Ask the other person if they are open to hearing your idea and give them a comfortable out if they'd rather not hear it. Respect the answer to your permission question and don't forge ahead without permission.
4. Don't use demeaning nicknames like honey, sweetie, love or babe. These are not appropriate unless you are dating or married to the other person, and even then ask how they feel about these terms and make sure they are seen as a compliment, not an insult.
5. Never correct another person's pronunciation or grammar.
6. Avoid sexist or demeaning jokes and misogynistic statements. Call out other people who use them. Explain to them why their behavior is wrong. Watch for situations that make women or other marginalized people feel uncomfortable and stand up for them.
7. Make a committed effort to listen to other people. In any meetings you attend, make sure all the women and marginalized people are respected and heard. Insist that others acknowledge and hear them out. Stop people who are interrupting them.
8. Believe women and what they say. Insist that others do the same.
9. Don't get defensive if a woman — or anyone for that matter — tells you that your words or behavior were offensive or hurtful. Be open to understanding that from another person's perspective things can look and feel different than they feel from your perspective. Apologize and ask questions so you understand what you should do differently in the future. Be teachable.
10. Be careful not to talk over other people. Don't dismiss others' ideas; and if you cannot wait to make a comment, at least politely ask if you can stop them for a second. Then, make sure you invite them to continue afterward.
11. If you are on a board, panel or team, insist that they include a well-rounded number of diverse people. Invite more women or minorities to participate and be included.
12. Teach young people that being feminine is not a bad thing. Don't use phrases like "you hit like a girl." Challenge stereotypes that place women behind men as the weaker sex. Encourage women and girls to see themselves as equal, smart and capable as men.
What to do if you find yourself being talked down to or interrupted
1. Don't take it personally. Interrupting says more about a lack of manners in the other person than it says about you. This experience doesn't mean you are less important or less worthy of respect; it likely means the other person hasn't learned to be aware of how their actions affect other people.
2. Don't blame yourself or see yourself as weak or insecure. This happens because our entire society has been taught patriarchy as the social norm. You allow men to interrupt you because it is deep in your subconscious programming to see it as acceptable. It will take work and time for you to recognize every time it happens and learn to stand up for yourself. Have compassion for yourself during this time.
3. Whenever you are speaking to men, use confident words.Rose Kennedy, from the Atlanta Journal, encourages women to "speak with conviction using words like 'know' instead of 'believe' and 'will' instead of 'might." She says to "lean in and make eye contact," sighting a 1983 study that found men tend to interrupt women more often when they lean away or don't look at the person they're talking to.
4. Practice assertive body language. Do things like keeping your arms out to take up as much space in the room as you can. This is a power position and it changes how people treat you.
5. Be strong and confident without being defensive or overly forceful. You don't have to be angry and defensive to stand up for yourself. You can stand in your power and still be calm, peaceful and kind.
6. If you are interrupted or cut off, you have the following options to respond (which can all be done standing in your power):
- Keep talking and don't stop to allow the interruption at all. Hopefully, the interrupter will get it: You aren't allowing yourself to be interrupted today.
- Ask them politely to allow you to finish what you were saying. Do this without malice or venom in your tone. "John, would you mind allowing me to finish what I was saying here, then you can be next?"
- Allow the interruption, but quickly pick up where you left off afterward. When the person is finished say, "To just finish what I was saying …"
- Allow the interruption but pull the person aside later, in private. Ask the person if they would ever be open to allowing you to share something you noticed in the conversation earlier. Do not make this an attack, though, or the person will come away hating you instead of learning something. Be respectful and kind, and just ask if they would be open to a little constructive feedback on something that happened earlier, which they might want to be aware of. Explain that you felt cut off and disrespected, but you know they wouldn't do that on purpose (assume this). Ask if moving forward they might be willing to watch for cutting off or interrupting women when they speak. Don't focus on past mistakes. Focus on asking for different behavior in the future.
You might want to share this article with the people at work and even ask your boss if this is something everyone in the office could work on. Bringing this problem into the light and asking others to be aware of it, is the important first step to creating change.
You can do this.
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