Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey Day Vow: Interrupt the Interruptions

I had just interviewed a fascinating consultant, Dr. Jeannie Kahwajy, who runs Effective Interactions helping management teams communicate more productively. She points out how much more effective we all are at work if we invite the contribution of everyone in the room -- even those who have a hard time being heard. She talks about how a guy in her MBA class kept getting run over by louder men in her section. So one day, after the guy got interrupted again, Jeannie smiled at him and said “I would really like to hear what you have to say--will you please continue?"

Jeannie says that what’s often seen as a woman’s failure to speak up is really a failure to keep talking -- when cut off by someone else in the room. And that everyone benefits when we intercept those interruptions.

“If I let a man interrupt another woman, I reinforce the view that ‘women are supposed to be interrupted,’ ” says Kahwajy. “All it takes is one supporter to stop an interruption. And it’s easier for me to support you than myself—with a positive tone and an open and receptive mind. Every time I do that, I protect my own values.”

So there I was sitting at the dinner table with my family, enjoying the holiday and listening to my mother tell us about a book she’d just read. She was giving us lot of details -- a custom among my kin, men and women alike though I may be the worst offender.

“So what I think is really important,” broke in one of my male relatives (no name, he’s really a nice guy). “Hmm,” I thought while picking up my spoon and wrapping it against a wine glass. “Hey, I would like to hear mom out -- will you hang in there?” I told him. He looked a bit surprised but settled back in his chair. My mom looked even more surprised -- and then happily resumed her story.

I was thrilled - Jeannie was right -- it’s not so hard to protect your values. On a roll, a few months later, some friends invited us for dinner and it seemed to me that every time the wife started to hold forth on something, her husband became impatient and re-directed the conversation. She seemed to accept this and would then remain quiet for a while.

“Wow, it’s like my mom!” I thought. So when it happened again, at the risk of offending Miss Manners (and our host), I clinked my glass, smiled sweetly at him, and said, “you know I’m really interested in what Ann has to say.” Ann’s husband shrugged (he’s also a nice guy). And my husband, to his credit, laughed. Steve always knows what I’m up to and generally has a fine sense of humor about my crusades ... though slightly less when I observe that he’s the one who is interrupting me.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. If you feel inspired to try out Jeannie’s advice, please let us know on our blog how this “tradition” worked for you.

By Sharon Meers

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