The entitled male is hard to shut up. Recent displays of infuriating "manterrupting" illustrate how tough it can be to manage the problem. CBS News journalist Lesley Stahl, in her "60 Minutes" interview Sunday with President Donald Trump, was interrupted, talked over, instructed and lectured about how to speak. Despite — or perhaps because of — her unrattled persistence, Trump finally cut her off completely and walked out of the interview early.
As every woman who has sat seething through a meeting knows, "manterrupting" is real. Social science studies suggest that men interrupt women 33 percent more than they interrupt other men.
Researchers who study this offer three basic categories of response tactics: aggressive, polite and a combination of the two.
Researchers who study this offer three basic categories of response tactics: aggressive, polite and a combination of the two. Effective strategies, ranging from "verbal chicken" to "pause and resume" and the "question sneak attack," can up women's chances of having their say among verbally hostile men.
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This advice is sorely needed, because even the most powerful, high-status women are subjected to manterruptions. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, was repeatedly forced to remind Vice President Mike Pence to let her talk during their recent debate. Her assertion "I'm speaking" quickly emerged as a mantra emblazoned on T-shirts. NBC News' Kristen Welker, the steely moderator of the second presidential debate last week, had the help of a muted microphone to stem the flow of intrusive verbiage from the manterrupter-in-chief.
You would think that ascending to the Supreme Court would protect women from manterrupting. Nope; Trump's nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, had better get ready. Male justices, research shows, interrupt their female colleagues three times as often as they interrupt one another during oral arguments, regardless of the women's seniority.
Studies show that these "highly gendered" arguments can affect the outcomes of cases — making manterrupting a practice that can distort the fundamental laws of the land. The moderator of the vice presidential debate, USA Today's Susan Page, acknowledged that Pence's frequent interruptions of Harris resulted in his having more speaking time. This suggests manterrupting even undermines the democratic process.
Getting men to stop is notoriously tricky. Many are oblivious of or don't understand the impact of their actions. Manterrupters, studies show, start their careers early: Boys at age 4 are already interrupting girls in play situations, and they do the same at school — perhaps imitating their teachers, who interrupt girls more themselves. By the time guys are in college, the habit seems entrenched, a point underscored by a recent viral TikTok video showing a female student cut off repeatedly in her online classes.
Obviously, there's serious work to be done in changing cultural norms. Dealing with this disrespectful activity requires a versatile toolkit.
Many experts call for aggressive approaches. Manterruption is "a patriarchal act," declares U.N. Women, a United Nations group promoting gender equality, which demands that everyone take responsibility to break the cycle by "calling it out, and stopping an interrupter in his (or her) tracks."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., one of world's most powerful women, showed how it's done when she tackled the problem head on during a working dinner at the White House. When she was incessantly interrupted and talked over, Pelosi asked point blank: "Do the women get to talk around here?" The men, including Trump, reportedly didn't interrupt her again that night.
One assertive tactic calls for the person being interrupted to ignore it and keep right on talking. Jessica Bennett, gender editor-at-large at The New York Times and author of the book "Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace)," describes this technique as a game of "verbal chicken."
Sometimes you have to upset expectations. After analyzing countless hours of talk radio, writer and producer Rose Eveleth found that being polite to interrupters didn't work: "You will wait forever for them to notice that they are doing this," she wrote. "The universe will end in a white-hot explosion before they will stop."
Eveleth advises guerrilla tactics like the "question sneak attack," in which you ask the perpetrator, over his talking, whether you can pose him a question. Such a question — "Jim, can I ask you something?" — often gives men pause, allowing you to make your point.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., demonstrated another assertive script-flipping technique during a congressional hearing: She interrupted Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's monologue of an answer to declare that she was "reclaiming my time."
If your mental calculus indicates that confrontational techniques would be too costly — a real concern, because women fighting to have their say are often labeled "difficult" — there are more subtle approaches. One is the "pause and resume" method, notes writer Rachel Sklar, which calls for waiting, collecting your thoughts and then picking up where you left off.
If your mental calculus indicates that confrontational techniques would be too costly there are more subtle approaches.
Harvard Business School psychologist Francesca Gino suggests the pre-emptive strategy of starting a discussion with a general "public service announcement" informing participants that women are interrupted more often than men and telling them to be mindful of their communication styles. She also recommends that women secure allies so they can stick up for one another when the bad behavior arises. Interestingly, she advises women to avoid making eye contact with manterrupters while speaking — because this can signal to them that it's OK to pipe up. (Others, however, say making eye contact conveys assertiveness and may reduce manterruption.)
Sometimes, women want to strike a balance between being assertive and being polite. Legal analysts Pam Woldow and Doug Richardson recommend "name the frame" — addressing manterrupters in the moment to call attention to behavior without denouncing intentions. For example, "Gary, I'm being cut short here. Please let me complete my thought."
Author Geoffrey James suggests a graduated approach, in which you let the first incident pass, call it out politely the second time and then escalate your responses. If the manterrupter proves unable to control himself, you end or leave the conversation: "Dave, let's resume this discussion when we can have a more constructive exchange."
If you want real data about your experiences of manterruption, there's actually an app for that! The "Woman Interrupted" app uses the microphone on your cellphone to analyze conversations for interruption. This technology provides women new tools for documenting behavior that too many people still deny is a real thing.
Fortunately, cultural norms can change. Challenges to traditional patriarchy and outdated workplace behavior, like the #MeToo movement, are already shifting notions of what is acceptable. Lesley Stahl has been a respected journalist for 50 years. Which means she likely knows better than anyone else that gaining a seat at the table doesn't mean much if you can't be heard over the din.