Interrupting is just…plain…rude.
A couple of weeks ago at the SXSW conference, an interesting thing happened.
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Aspen Institute CEO (and author) Walt Isaacson were called out for repeatedly interrupting Megan Smith, the U.S. government’s Chief Technology Officer.
The real stinger for Schmidt is that the person who did the calling out was none other than Google’s own Judith Williams, head of global diversity and talent programs and by some accounts head of Google’s “Unconscious Bias Program.”
From the article:
“The incident was a classic example of what Jessica Bennett, writing in Time magazine earlier this year, has dubbed ‘manterrupting’, or the ‘unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man’.”
While I doubt the real usefulness of the word “manterrupting” beyond being an interesting mashup–“interrupting” suffices nicely for all genders–I do think that there is a real lesson here in watching out for known biases.
Not to mention the lesson of watching out for simply rude behavior. This is especially true for “smart” people or people who believe their position of power affords them the right to interrupt.
Most interruptors (like me at times) might say they do so out of excitement or passion or a “strong personality.” (By the way, anyone who uses the term “strong personality” without their tongue firmly in cheek is probably somebody watch out for).
The truth is, it’s just rude and impatient. And, it’s often just a blind spot for those of us who have or do suffer from the urge to interrupt.
The extent of such a blind spot can be shocking. For instance, after a frustrating set of interruptions, I once tested the mettle of a particularly egregious senior executive interruptor to see how far the arrogance of the interruption would extend.
While speaking, I grew to know the interruption was coming, so I chose–once–to just keep talking through it.
I made it about twice the length of this sentence while this person just kept talking before I, finally, relented. It seems that my upbringing wouldn’t allow me to sustain talking over someone for that long–even from the proverbial high ground.
Imagine a full 10 seconds of two grown people talking over one another, and you’ll get a sense of the ridiculousness of the situation. I’m sure the others in the room saw it.
Though I never tested it again, the person’s ability to interrupt and continue interrupting when room wasn’t ceded was a striking exercise of arrogance and impatience.
Don’t be that person!
On this Saturday morning, consider the need to let others speak.
Especially watch out for cultural or gender differences in assertiveness.
As I’ve posted previously (link here), this sensitivity can make your team better, not to mention make you (and me) a better person to work with.
To all those I’ve interrupted: I’m sorry. I was rude.
Pardon the manterruption.