Woe Is Me! “My Male Colleagues Won’t Let Me Talk in Meetings. What Do I Do?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“Every time we have a team discussion, there are two men in my team who have this irritating habit of interrupting everyone who contributes. They always butt in with their experiences, stories, or remarks that may have nothing to do with the conversation. Last week, one of them interrupted me mid-sentence! It would be fine if this were a mistake, or even if it were a one-time thing — but it keeps happening and it has frustrated me to a point where I’ve stopped speaking up during these discussions. I’ve been working for the last two years and one thing that baffles me is the confidence and ease with which men talk in meetings. I can’t get myself to articulate my thoughts or ideas with the same air — much less interrupt someone else.“
— The sound of misogyny
RN: I would recommend saying something as my first instinct, but that’s a self-defeating endeavor by itself. What if your colleagues interrupt you while you’re in the process of calling them out? One way to address this is to have a chat with them outside the bounds of meetings — firmly letting them know that they’re taking up too much space, and leaving little to none for others. You could also send them an email detailing your concerns before offering to talk about it in person. But most importantly, start holding your own during these meetings directly: when interrupted, interrupt them back to reclaim your time, reminding them that you weren’t finished. But whatever you do, do not stop speaking up or sharing your thoughts and ideas during meetings. They’re essential for your own growth, and holding back because of tiresome colleagues could damage your own prospects. It’s a sad reality to deal with, but one that we must confront early on — before it hurts us more permanently.
DR: You could say something, but then again, you’ll probably be interrupted. Sigh. Welcome to patriarchy, I guess?
Jokes apart, I can imagine how frustrating this must be. The confidence cishet men exude is as enviable as it is infuriating. But, what if you tried to beat them at their own game? Here’s an idea: don’t shut up when they interrupt you. Continue talking, and if they ask you why you’re disrespecting them, very innocently say: “Oh, my bad! I didn’t realize you were contributing to this conversation since, you know, the point you’re making isn’t really relevant to the topic?” Or, if you’d prefer to be more confrontational, you could say, “Back at you, mate! Speaking over people is a lesson in self-love I’ve had the privilege of learning from you. I’d forgotten to thank you earlier, but here’s my eternal gratitude!”
However, if these men are indeed allies, and just happen to never have been told that they’re disrespectful, you could do the emotional labor of educating them — by sitting them down and having a one-on-one conversation about how their behavior makes you feel. It’s not your responsibility to do this, though. And given that there’s a possibility you might be met with hostility, I’d say what’s, perhaps, a better use of your time is to train a pet to perform tricks. You might achieve greater success there.
Here’s another idea: how about you speak to more women at work, and see if they’d be willing to accompany you to the HR’s office, where you can collectively suggest a sensitization program to guide your male colleagues to the mirror. That way, they’d be forced to confront their problematic behavior without feeling attacked. If that doesn’t work, though, go the Bollywood way: band with the women in your group, and proceed to have a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai / Chura Liya Hai Tumne / Kuch Na Kaho-esque showdown with the men, and remind them: “Girls are best, jaan lo!”
DD: Unfortunately, this is far too relatable. I’d say if you’re in a position to say something, then do point it out when it happens — even if there are other people in the room. A lot of times most men do not expect it since no one has ever told them to zip it before, so they’re often taken aback. It might be awkward for a hot minute, but going forward, your message would be loud and clear. If you don’t want to be rude, using phrases like “I wasn’t finished making my point,” or “As I was saying earlier,” sound polite but assertive at the same time.
However, if speaking up or confronting the person directly is too intimidating (and many times, it is) asking someone who is in a more comfortable position to help out and advocate for you, could also be an option.
AS: Hmmm… this seems deliberate and nasty. I know it will be difficult to prove that they are doing it on purpose in front of the whole office. Plus, sometimes we also understandably want to avoid public confrontations. But I’d still say: try taking it up with someone else in the office once — someone who you can trust. But also, if that doesn’t work out, you could try giving them back a taste of their own medicine. Interrupt them, speak loudly over them, and pretend to be their friends while not letting them talk even for a minute. Eventually, they will either realize their folly or just shut up out of sheer embarrassment.
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