Last night’s debate wasn’t quite the interruption-fest that we saw at the first presidential debate, but it still felt familiar to anyone who’s ever been repeatedly talked over in a meeting — in other words, most working women.
Not only did Donald Trump interrupt Hillary Clinton 18 times, while she only interrupted him once, per Vox, but some of his interjections seemed less about clarifying a point or demanding equal time than pulling focus (e.g., “Because you’d be in jail.”) Afterward, Trump reportedly complained that he received less time to speak, despite the fact that most estimates put his speaking time at about one minute longer than Clinton’s.
This is like when you have a movie where the cast is gender balanced and men think there's more women onscreen. https://t.co/KlnRLG69nO
— Megan- Salty 4x4ever (@mig14) October 10, 2016
Research suggests that this pattern of interruption and entitlement is pretty typical for men and women, even outside of professional environments.
“In a seminal 1975 study, Don Zimmerman and Candace West, sociologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, systematically tracked conversational interruptions by men and women,” writes Alice Robb at The New York Times: Women in the World. “They loitered in public places like coffee shops and drug stores with a tape recorder, surreptitiously recording any two-person conversations they overheard. (They ended up with a sample of 31 dialogues: 10 conversations between two men, 10 between two women, and 11 between men and women.) Their results were staggering: in the mixed-sex conversations, men were responsible for all but one of the 48 interruptions they overheard.”
So what can you do about it? For starters, gather your allies.
Find People Who Will Help You Be Heard
Last night’s debate differed from the previous one in another key way: the moderators, Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, were more aggressive with their questions and follow-ups, and in monitoring time. This didn’t always work out in Clinton’s favor: at one point, Raddatz drily thanked both candidates for allowing her to move on to an audience question.
But both Raddatz and Cooper at various points in the proceedings interjected to ensure that Clinton was allowed to finish a point, even reminding the audience to be quiet. Once, Cooper admonished Trump, “Please allow her to respond. She didn’t interrupt you.”
Can Anderson Cooper follow me around to all of my meetings?
"Please let her talk, she didn't interrupt you."
— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) October 10, 2016
Note that Trump still wound up with slightly more time than Clinton. This wasn’t a case of the moderators being in the tank for a candidate, but of their demanding that both voices on the stage be heard.
Your search for support at work should take the same shape: you’re not looking for unconditional endorsement of everything you say or do, but rather colleagues who demand that your ideas see the light of day. (And of course, you should be willing to do the same for them.)
The Strategy of Amplification
Of course, in real life, journalists aren’t going to mediate your meetings. But you can achieve a similar effect by surrounding yourself with smart people who are committed to making sure that everyone gets a chance to speak.
Last month, The Washington Post ran a piece about how female staffers at the White House in Obama’s male-heavy first administration used the strategy of “amplification” to be heard.
“When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author,” Juliet Eilperin wrote. “This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.”
Tell Us What You Think
Do you think women are interrupted more than men at your workplace? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.