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Imma let you finish
July 18, 2014 8:57 AM   Subscribe

An informal study of interrupting on LanguageLog finds that men interrupt more than women and that women hardly ever interrupt. Except if you're a senior woman in tech and then you interrupt all the time.
posted by hydrobatidae (32 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
What the article actually says is: "Women interrupt each other constantly, and almost never interrupt men. Of the 102 interruptions from women that I logged, a staggering 89 of them were instances of women interrupting other women."

So I wouldn't say "women hardly ever interrupt," if they're "constantly" interrupting each other.
posted by John Cohen at 9:16 AM on July 18 [10 favorites]


Imma let you finish... but chronological ordering of blog dialog is the best order of all time:
  1. Men interrupt more than women -- guest post by Kieran Snyder
  2. Some constructive-critical notes on the informal overlap study -- post by Mark Liberman
  3. Want to get ahead as a woman in tech? Learn to interrupt -- guest post by Kieran Snyder
In any case, really interesting!
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:18 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


yeah also really interesting how frequently in general interruptions are, and how absolutely rare it is for a woman to interrupt a man.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:19 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I saw Kieran Snyder's original guest article on LanguageLog, but missed the follow ups.

I'd also like to point out: the third link is the original article, the first is a response, and the fourth is a follow up from Snyder with more analysis.
posted by nangar at 9:28 AM on July 18


I'm glad this was brought here; I've been following the discussion with interest at the Log, occasionally wincing at the attempts by men to obfuscate or downplay the obvious basic truth of Snyder's findings. I liked the last paragraph of her latest post:
But I’ll tell you this: Not a single woman in technology (of any level) that I know is surprised by these results. While the academic linguistic community has appropriately responded with suggestions for follow-ups and rigorous methodology, women in tech have mostly responded, “Yeah, duh.”
posted by languagehat at 9:31 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


OK, Llama-Lime already said that. (Except "Some constructive-critical notes" is by Mark Dingemanse, not Mark Liberman.)
posted by nangar at 9:32 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


So I wouldn't say "women hardly ever interrupt," if they're "constantly" interrupting each other.

Sociolinguists have been fascinated by the phenomenon of interruption for a long time and there's a pretty deep literature on the subject. The post by Mark Liberman is good at laying out the complexities of the issue. The problem is that "interruption" is a poor global term for what are highly divergent forms of communicative strategy. We all know what it's like to be in a conversation with good friends--we talk over each other and interrupt each other all the time, but there's no sense in which that's a power play or a belittling of the interlocutor. Those are cooperative interruptions in which we're collectively participating in a shared conversational project (that's one reason why transcripts of real conversations are so often baffling, because it's not anyone's normal communicative style when relaxing with intimates to talk in whole sentences, let alone whole paragraphs). And it's actually really hard, from a research point of view, to tease out those kinds of cooperative interruptions from interruptions of the "Imma let you finish" variety--where you're actually shutting off the speaker in an aggressive bid for the focus of attention.
posted by yoink at 9:36 AM on July 18 [10 favorites]


I'd really like to see that up against sentence length (which is a poor proxy for time it takes someone to actually speak), work positioning, and such.
posted by adipocere at 9:40 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Except if you're a senior woman in tech and then you interrupt all the time.

I resemble that remark when I need to. Not enough, it seems, if I'm having the work troubles I'm having, however, getting what my department needs from everyone else.

And in a separate example, I was co-conducting a recorded informational session a few weeks back. Another senior woman insisted on interrupting my explanations with an exception that was completely unrelated to the discussion six times in under a minute*. I just let her wind down and instructed the session editor to clip her out later (nothing was changing on the screen so it would not have interrupted the fidelity).

*I would begin to answer the third person's question, she would insert a digressive example. She'd stop talking, I'd start to say my piece from the beginning (cleaner editing) and she'd interrupt again. Each time her body language "shut down" when she closed her mouth from her speaking posture but she'd jack in the box right back up again.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 9:46 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I should also add that the phenomenon of men interrupting women vastly more often than women interrupt men is a long established finding in sociolinguistics. It is also the case that men tend to say more overall in mixed-gender conversations. Another interesting finding is that when you poll men after such conversations and ask them to estimate the percentage of the conversation dominated by the various participants they tend to wildly overestimate how much the women spoke. That is if you have a meeting of two men and one woman and the woman speaks for 1/3 of the time in that meeting, the men--on average--will estimate that she dominated the conversation.
posted by yoink at 9:47 AM on July 18 [17 favorites]


> "... Of the 102 interruptions from women that I logged, a staggering 89 of them were instances of women interrupting other women." So I wouldn't say "women hardly ever interrupt," if they're "constantly" interrupting each other.

Snyder's follow-up article has some additional analysis of this. (Looking at status and gender puts it in a different perspective.)
posted by nangar at 9:49 AM on July 18


Lean in, step out, don't trip -shout it out.
posted by locidot at 9:51 AM on July 18


While the Snyder pieces lay out an important set of results, the Liberman post about the complications of this is fascinating. I'd love to see more data/study on cooperative/competitive interrupts, by gender and seniority.
posted by bonehead at 9:57 AM on July 18


languagehat: "occasionally wincing at the attempts by men to obfuscate or downplay the obvious basic truth of Snyder's findings."

Which is foolish even when seen purely from a self-interested point of view. I have two illustrating stories: My board had an attorney, a man in his 50s, a big-deal partner, who always ALWAYS let the men on the board speak in complete sentences but almost without fail interrupted the women on the board and talked over them until they shut up. I was one of two attorneys on the board (the other one was male), but he talked over me all the same. On several occasions I said, "Excuse me, please let me finish my question instead of answering what you think I'm asking." (Which, when you get to that point in a meeting, things have already deteriorated quite a bit.) He also constantly talked over our female managerial employees, to the point where we were concerned he wasn't handling our HR issues properly because he never fucking let the head of HR finish a sentence. I finally took him aside after a meeting and told him I did not appreciate him constantly interrupting me and the other women on the board and he needed to give us the same respect he gave the men on the board. He said he was aware he had a problem letting women speak and he'd try to do better. I don't know if he tried, but he didn't do any better. We fired him and went with a different firm that doesn't ignore more than half our management and board.

In a different setting I was being lobbied by a Fortune 500 exec to vote in favor of a thing he and the local Chamber of Commerce wanted our schools to do, a large-money project they had a lot invested in. He met with each member of the board to talk to us and "answer our questions" but -- again -- dude in his 60s, every time I attempted to ask a question he'd either interrupt me, or tell me my question was stupid. "What is contingency plan in case this project fails in this particular way?" "It won't." "Actually, from what I've researched, 78% of similar projects run into this problem --" "I don't know what you think you've been reading, but we intend this project to be a success." "I'm sure you do, but --" "Look, I've been in business for 40 years, and let me tell you something ..." He complained afterwards to our liaising staff that of all the board members, I was the only one he wasn't able to get a read on and couldn't tell which way I was going to vote, or on what issues he should lobby me further. HEY JACKASS MAYBE YOU "COULDN'T GET A READ" ON ME BECAUSE YOU LISTENED TO LITERALLY NONE OF THE WORDS THAT CAME OUT OF MY MOUTH AND HARDLY LET ME FINISH ANY SENTENCES. (I voted against the project in part because they addressed literally none of the concerns I attempted to raise.)

Men who can't listen to women, or let women speak, are putting themselves at an increasing disadvantage in a workforce where women are, more and more, in positions of authority and decisionmaking. And in a lot of cases, men who can't listen to women render themselves bad at their jobs because of absolutely dire gaps in communication ability.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:59 AM on July 18 [77 favorites]


Ignoring the many complications, one thing I've noticed is that a quiet man can often get away with being considered thoughtful whereas a quiet women is considered to not know anything about the subject. So, when the man speaks up, people want to hear it.

This is by no means universal, but I've noticed it enough that it might contribute, especially in the world of introverts that can sometimes be IT.
posted by michaelh at 10:02 AM on July 18 [11 favorites]


I grew up in the loudest women-interrupting-women families I've ever seen. I don't think I finished a sentence until I started school, and "you don't get to finish a sentence" was so thoroughly drummed into my head during the first decades of my life that it took me a long time to learn how to have a normal conversation.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:07 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I'm a woman who is not in the tech field. For years I constantly interrupted people. It seemed uncontrollable to me. Then I was diagnosed with ADD and found out that a lot of people with ADD interrupt as a way to stay focused on the conversation. I'm better about it now, but it's still something that I have to fight against.
posted by obol at 10:15 AM on July 18 [9 favorites]


It took my former boss about 3-4 years to realize that if I am interrupting him in the middle of the board meeting it is to save him from making an ass of himself wittering on about something he either misheard or misunderstood. Those 3-4 years were very asstacular.

The fact that my male coworkers are now, to a man, trained to the habit of looking to me for confirmation after speaking is very gratifying indeed.
posted by elizardbits at 10:23 AM on July 18 [20 favorites]


"An informal study of interrupting on LanguageLog finds that men interrupt more than women and that women hardly ever interrupt."

Huh. That doesn't track with my day-to-day reality in the least...

"Except if you're a senior woman in tech and then you interrupt all the time."

Ah, okay, now it does.

Drives me crazy when my manager interrupts me. Fortunately she can't see me roll my eyes on conference calls.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 10:32 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I interrupt constantly because if I didn't I would never be heard.

Since I am responsible for most of the important work our department is doing right now, you'd think they'd shut up occasionally and let the one person who knows something speak, but obviously that's absurd I'm a lady what do I know.
posted by winna at 10:36 AM on July 18 [9 favorites]


Surprised not to see a cite to Deborah Tannen. She talks a lot about interrupting in Gender and Discourse. Her discussion really hammered the point about distinguishing, as yoinks talked about, between competitive and cooperative interruption.

I mention the book because her (transcribed from recordings) "worked examples" really clarified the complexities of what seems like a simple dynamic.
posted by PMdixon at 10:49 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]


I never realized what a rich area of study this is, and would be interested to know what kinds of sentences get interrupted. For example, I get really fidgety when I hear 2 or 3 left parenthesis and don't see any right parens forthcoming. And I'm sure I'm impatient with those who won't give me a straight answer to a simple question like "have you stopped beating your dog yet". (Not trying to minimize the gender/power dynamics that are the post focus.)
posted by klarck at 11:01 AM on July 18


Everybody, male and female, interrupts me all the feckin' time. Drives me crazy. That's why I love the internet. Because I get to finish.
posted by Decani at 11:03 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Sorry to cut you off, Decani. I'll read the rest of what you said later, but that word you just used: feckin'. That's really interesting. Did you know that...

Never mind.
posted by ProxybyMunchausen at 11:33 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


"Sorry to cut you off, but"

That's a Canadian interrupting there, that is.
posted by ProxybyMunchausen at 11:34 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


I too am a woman with ADD who struggles with interrupting people. I'm curious what if any overlap there is between the effects of ADD and gender. Would a woman with ADD have an advantage in fields like tech in which interrupting is apparently seen as authoritative and forceful? Or would she be doubly disadvantaged with both the ADD and the public perception that she's rude or pushy, both unforgivable sins for a woman?
posted by nicebookrack at 11:36 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised if there already was an app that uses a speaker recognition kit like this to mix voice activity detection with tagging people and stats.
posted by yoHighness at 12:32 PM on July 18


People have been telling me I'm rude for decades. I'm just on a track to success as a senior professional in my industry!
posted by matildaben at 1:32 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


"I'm glad this was brought here; I've been following the discussion with interest at the Log, occasionally wincing at the attempts by men to obfuscate or downplay the obvious basic truth of Snyder's findings."

You, too, huh?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:52 PM on July 18


Hey, Eyebrows McGee, do you mind if I ask how your board as a whole went about firing that jerk? Were the men aware of the problems this guy had, or did you and the other women have to work to convince them?
posted by Corinth at 10:20 PM on July 19


Corinth: "Hey, Eyebrows McGee, do you mind if I ask how your board as a whole went about firing that jerk? Were the men aware of the problems this guy had, or did you and the other women have to work to convince them?"

I had casually groused to some of the men about how much I disliked being interrupted all the time, and some of the other women had been like, "Me too! He's terrible!" just when we were all socializing during breaks in the meeting or before or after meetings or whatever, so the men on the board were at least aware that the women thought there was an issue. When it came down to it, and we discussed his retention, I think 50% of the men recognized this guy had a problem with women, and 50% of them were like "well, I don't see sexism, but clearly he has personality conflicts that impede his effectiveness."

What was indisputable was that he couldn't work with our head of HR, like, at all, and the HR management were all continually frustrated by the way he blew past them, ignored what they said, missed a major issue, and then bit their heads off for not warning him in advance about the issue and complained to the board about HR's incompetence. They starting having a secretary in to take notes in shorthand to show that they told him things he would later ignore. Our head of HR had been with us for like 25 years and was widely respected in the organization, and she was a very careful and thorough employee. So whatever his reason was for not being able to work with her, he was probably going to lose that conflict.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:11 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]


Kieran Snyder follows up on Slate with an analysis of whether boys and girls show the same patterns of interruption as adults to.

Boys interrupt even more than men. Girls interrupt a lot more when there are only girls in a group.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:34 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


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