Being stunned into silence will not prevent the situation from happening again.
Q: Whenever I discuss technical issues in staff meetings, one of my male co-workers always interrupts. He then proceeds to reiterate exactly the same point that I was making. He never does this to any of the men on our team. I am usually stunned into silence by these interruptions, so I would like to know how to respond. Any ideas?
A: Men interrupting women is a very common phenomenon. Unfortunately, women often automatically stop speaking and just allow the guys to take control. But given that your colleague’s interruptions are both frequent and predictable, they shouldn’t leave you “stunned into silence.”
To combat these rude interjections, you need to be prepared with an appropriately assertive response. One option is to simply ignore the guy and continue with your comments, even if that feels uncomfortable. Another is to look directly at him and calmly state “Wait a minute, Bob. I need to finish what I was saying.” Then proceed to do exactly that.
If you consistently refuse to relinquish the floor, your ill-mannered co-worker will eventually get the message and realize that he has to wait his turn.
Q: Recently, a group of employees met with me to complain about their supervisor. They unanimously stated that “Megan” shows favoritism and makes unfair decisions. Since they had not made her aware of these concerns, I agreed to have another meeting with Megan present.
Now I’m afraid that I might be making the situation worse. Based on past observation, I know this team can be catty and intimidating. I fear they will attack Megan during the meeting and put her on the defensive. Do you think I should speak with her beforehand and let her know what’s coming?
A: One question to consider is whether these troubles originate with Megan or the “catty and intimidating” team members. Lacking sufficient information to make that determination, however, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume your diagnosis is correct.
Instead of preparing Megan for an impending confrontation, I believe you should re-evaluate your plan. From Megan’s point of view, this encounter may seem like a public flogging, especially since upset employees tend to be highly critical. If she begins to feel resentful and defensive, her relationship with the team may deteriorate even further.
Also, by making Megan a target, you will be undermining her leadership role. When managers have performance problems, the objective should be to provide feedback and coaching without neutralizing their position. Therefore, a better approach would be to privately share the team’s concerns with Megan, then let her take the lead in responding.
After agreeing on the necessary changes, you and Megan should meet with the team together. Establish ground rules for a constructive discussion; then turn the meeting over to her. Megan can summarize the issues, describe her improvement plan, and answer any questions. Your job is to keep the conversation positive and productive.
Going forward, you should continue to work with Megan on strengthening her leadership style. And you might also encourage her group to change their catty and intimidating ways.