Preventing interruptions


February 28, 1993|By Niki Scott

It's an important meeting and you've come up with sound, innovative ideas to present. You feel confident, competent, capable. This is your chance to shine!

Unfortunately, if you're the only female in the room -- or one of only a few -- you're instead likely to end up feeling out-talked, interrupted and generally ignored by your male colleagues -- and supervisors.

"Not only do men talk more than women, they also interrupt women more often than women interrupt men," say Connie Glaser and Barbara Smalley in their book "More Power to You!" (Warner Books; $9.99).

"In fact, in a study that compared conversations between men and women with those between just men, interruptions in all-male conversations were balanced between the speakers.

"However, in the male-female pairs, men interrupted women 96 percent more often than women interrupted men!"

Here are 10 ways to gain -- and keep -- the floor in any meeting regardless of the irritating habits of your male -- or female -- colleagues:

* Find out the meeting's purpose and agenda ahead of time, then do your homework. Research the subject matter carefully. Spend time organizing your thoughts and rehearse what you're going to say.

* If you can, find out who else will be at the meeting, as well. This gives you time to plan how you're going to deal with the various personalities.

* Arrive early and stake out a power position for yourself. Sit either near the head of the table, to the right of the most powerful attendee, in the middle of the side facing the door, or directly across the table from the person you most want to impress.

* Don't allow nervous habits to distract from what you're saying. Never read from notes, shuffle papers, fiddle with your jewelry or hair, cover your mouth, drum your fingers, bite your nails or smile at all while you're speaking unless what you're saying is meant to be humorous.

* Use hand gestures sparingly. These can be both distracting and power-reducing, thus inviting others to discount and interrupt you. If you do use hand motions, make sure they're assertive (punch the air, point, make a fist) rather than fluttery.

* Maintain constant eye contact with the important people at the meeting while you're speaking.

* If you're interrupted, break eye contact with that person immediately and sideline him (or her) by raising your voice slightly, making a "stop" hand motion and repeating the first few words of your next sentence over and over until you're allowed to finish it.

* Make sure your voice is neither shrill nor whispery. Don't speak too slowly (you'll put people to sleep), or rattle on as if you don't believe that what you're saying is worth the time it's taking.

* Never discount what you're about to say with phrases like: "This may be a dumb idea, but . . . " or "This may be out of line, but . . . " They're an open invitation for people to ignore you.

* Purge your vocabulary of fillers such as "um," "ah," "like," "well," "uh," "er," "kinda," "sorta," and "y'know."

* Finally, believe with all your heart that what you're about to say is interesting, relevant and worth hearing.

) Universal Press Syndicate

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