Thursday, October 18, 2012

What women speakers can learn about interruptions from the debates

In "Would you please let me finish..." linguist Deborah Tannen today tackles the second debate between this year's U.S. presidential candidates and looks specifically at interruptions as a speaking tool, since there were plenty of them in this debate. Tannen, who has published widely on men's and women's differing speaking styles and preferences, takes note of three aspects of interrupting relevant to women speakers. From the article:
  • When women interrupt as moderators: "[A] moderator who interrupts risks being seen by viewers as rude. When Ms. Crowley told Mr. Romney she would 'get run out of town' if she didn’t stop him, she not only stopped him, but cleverly put the responsibility for doing so on others. The fact that these moderators were women complicated the challenge for the debaters, who were mindful of the need to appeal to, and not offend, female viewers."
  • Women, interrupted and interrupting: "It’s well documented that women tend to be interrupted more than men, and that women who interrupt others are seen more negatively than men who do. (Some years ago John McLaughlin showed me a tape to illustrate what he’d noticed — that Eleanor Clift was cut off far more often than the men on his show.)"
  • Women, interrupted by other women: "But it’s also been found that there are more interruptions in all-women conversations, though the talking-over may be more a talking-along in a lively free-for-all."
You'll find more useful information about women speakers and interrupting in two of my favorite books: Tannen's own landmark book, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, a must-read for understanding how the genders converse differently; and Cecelia Ford's Women Speaking Up: Getting and Using Turns in Workplace Meetings, a thorough-going look at the research on how women interrupt and are interrupted, which is part of getting a turn to speak in a meeting.