Shhh…! — How to Respond when Colleague Puts Their Hand Up to Stop You Talking in a Meeting

Have you been in a meeting when someone interrupted or stopped you talking by putting their hand up towards you / your face?

Did you feel so shocked, you stopped talking and let them take over?

Did you beat yourself up later for letting them do this and not standing your ground?

You are not the only one!

Most people (so far, it’s only been women) with whom I work experience this (usually from male colleagues) on a weekly, if not daily basis.

Let me get this out of the way — this is not because their male colleagues don’t value women or want to undermine women and I am sure most people would be mortified if they realised they have done this to someone else — in fact:

colleagues might not even realise what they are doing or indeed the impact this gesture has on their colleagues, whom they shut down.

“Why do they not realise?” You might ask. Usually, because no one told them! Or because no one has done this to them. So perhaps they don’t know how it feels.

What can you do when this happens to you?

1. Carry on talking — even if you are startled, immediately say “AND” and keep talking.

2. Carry on talking AND state the obvious: “I haven’t finished” or “I know you want to contribute John and I will give you the floor in a minute, what I was saying was…”

3. Speak to your colleague as soon as you can after the meeting (up to a month) in private and tell them:

“Hey John, can we have a word? You made some really good points in that meeting and I especially liked when you mentioned X, Y and Z. I am sure you mean well and you didn’t mean anything by it, you probably don’t even realise you did this, but I wanted you to know that when you lifted your hand in my face to stop me talking, I felt dismissed and undermined.

(Pause. Let them respond.)

I can imagine in the moment you probably didn’t even realise you were doing it. If in future you want to add your contribution to what I want to say, please try not to interrupt me like this. Can we agree a way for you to make me aware you want to contribute? Perhaps you can raise raise your index finger just off the table subtly to me, and I will know you want to say something, so when I finish I will say you want to say something and add your contribution that way.”

Have you ever been in a situation like this? How did it feel? What did you do about it?

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