Ask Jill: My boss talks over me in meetings. What do I do?

Dear Unheard but Proactive,

Good for you for asking what you can do in the case that your boss talks over you in a meeting! I have seen many people cope with this by staying silent, hushing their voice and giving up their power. Just the fact that you are asking this shows that you do want to contribute to your team and organization. You being proactive, that quality alone, demonstrates that you are a valuable asset to your company. I hope you fully realize that!

I wish you had a better example of leadership. I am seriously stumped when management fails to apply simple yet powerful techniques to get the best out of their team. Unfortunately, many fall victim to playing politics and letting insecurities get in the way of doing their job well (and being a better person). I could hypothesize all day about WHY they are interrupting you, not letting you speak. I am sure you are smart enough to determine why they are doing this repeatedly to you (which, I’m sure, includes a pinch of unconscious bias). Men love to talk over women, even if they fail to be aware of it.

In order to begin figuring out what to do, ask yourself 3 questions:
  1. How does being talked over make you feel?
  2. What resolution to this situation do you want?
  3. How is this negatively impacting your work?

The first two questions assess the most important factor: you and your health and wellbeing. If this happened to me, I’d feel unappreciated and unvalued. I would probably feel frustrated or angry too. And for the resolution, I would want them to stop and let me speak.

Mendelberg Discusses Her Research in TIME on Women Being Interrupted: 'Mr.  Vice President, I'm Speaking.' | Center for the Study of Democratic  Politics (CSDP)

Because I would feel unappreciated my work would likely suffer. It’s like they’re doing my job for me. What is my purpose if I cannot provide input in meetings? Does my boss value my expertise?

If I felt comfortable bringing it up with my boss, I would talk to them about it and use the third answer to inform how I approach the topic. A big tip in discussing workplace issues with a manager, advisor, or boss is to phrase the problem in a way where it reveals how it negatively affects them. If possible, do not phrase the issue in a way where you highlight how it’s making you feel. Unless your boss is empathetic and understands that how an employee feels is directly related to their performance, they may misinterpret what you say as your feelings being the problem, not the quality of your work when you are interrupted.

One things all your managers care about (or should care about) is the quality of your work. This includes decreased productivity, not meeting deadlines on-time, and errors in work. The quality of your work directly impacts their own performance as your boss.

When talking to my boss about this issue, I would state how when they speak for you in meetings it prevents you from doing your job. Let them know that you’ve got it covered, and, while you appreciate their input, you feel like you cannot share your expertise in meetings with their interjections. Hopefully they will listen and proactively refrain from continuing their behavior.

Your feelings about this are definitely valid, and I am glad you have awareness that this situation is negatively affecting you. It is important when we feel unsafe, uncomfortable, frustrated, or angry that we identify the root cause, and take action to address the issue in a way that positively serves you (and your organization, company, or university). Brushing off “little” incidents when you feel talked over can lead to further repurcussions like self-doubt, low self-efficacy, and even anxiety.

In the case that you do not feel comfortable talking with your boss about this issue, why not? Are you holding yourself back from engaging in a health professional relationship out of fear? Or, does this boss have a track-record of microaggressions, harassment or abuse? If it is the former, step outside your comfort-zone; you may be pleasantly surprised by their response to you bringing up this issue. If it is the latter, I encourage you to definitely report any and all instances of harassment to Human Resources (or the person/office you should report issues to at your organization).

You deserve to feel safe and comfortable in your workplace or school environment.

Thank you for your question!

Sincerely,

Jill

If you would like to submit a question to “Ask Jill” you can direct message me on Instagram, or email stemthriveguides@gmail.com your question with the Subject Line: Ask Jill.

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