Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m not sure whether I’m being ungenerous or this really is rude; hopefully you can help!
I’ve been with my firm for a long time; longer than most of the staff. I have a ton of institutional knowledge, and am the in-office expert on several specialized processes. Between that and my love of teaching, I find myself giving a lot of little tutorials and helping to troubleshoot issues, and it’s generally really great!
I get interrupted. A lot. I know my explanations can get fairly detailed (out of necessity!), but I don’t think it’s right to interrupt someone whose day you’ve disrupted, and more often than not it’s to ask a question that I was actively addressing. It should be noted that these are people stopping by my desk, not emailing or calling with their questions.
The worst is when people interrupt me to “correct” me on something I know extremely well. I’ll explain the format something needs to be in, and they’ll interrupt with “Well actually, it needs to be an excel document” when I just said it needs to be a *.csv. Because it needs to be a *.csv. I had one guy do this on his first day, as I was explaining something to a neighboring employee!
I don’t know how to make this stop. There’s a huge expectation that I be friendly and polite, but I want nothing more than to tell them “You’re clearly not interested in learning. Please leave so I can work,” and forward them a link to a search engine (and possibly a muzzle). I try not to let these interactions spoil my day, but they sometimes get me so bent out of shape I cancel my evening plans so I can decompress angrily at home.
Possibly related: despite my experience level, I’m relatively young, and even younger-looking. I’m also a woman. My older coworkers seldom pull this nonsense, and neither do women my age. Men my age are not just the worst offenders; they’re they only offenders. At this point I kind of dread every new male hire under 40. I don’t want it to make this a sexism thing, but it really does seem like one.
What do I do to stop the interrupters?
Wishing they would fall in a Well, Actually
You’re being interrupted in two crucial ways: 1) Your workday is being interrupted by requests for training or clarification and 2) You’re being verbally interrupted by the people who interrupted you in the first place. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that come to mind that could make the interruptions less frequent and less annoying.
The Big Picture: In your shoes I might think about how valuable the institutional knowledge you have is to the company and how much of your job description involves being interruptible. Before the next performance review or meeting about your work with your bosses, it might be worth jotting down some notes about topics like:
- Is the stuff you know about how to do those processes written down somewhere? When was it last updated?
- Is there a budget or room in the schedule for you to develop training materials and process manuals to make sure it’s all written down and kept updated?
- Is all of this training and explaining part of the job description you were hired to do? What percentage of your time do you think you spend training new employees or reviewing procedures? Has your salary or job description evolved to include this work?
- Is there work you are supposed to be doing that gets sidelined when you need to train people?
- Is there a training department and staff who could take some of this off your shoulders or loop you in in a structured way?
Depending on what your notes end up looking like, they may lead to a script for your boss, something like:
“In the past year I’ve spent about 30% of my time on-boarding new hires and teaching [processes]. I think it’s an enjoyable and important part of my job, and I think it’s valuable to the company because of [reasons]. I’m bringing this up now because I would like this work recognized when it’s time for promotion and compensation.
I’d also like your support in [making this a more visible and consistent part of my job, with title and $ to match][supporting a collaboration with the Training Department to document & deliver this information, so I won’t be the only source of this information in the company][putting in place a better structure when people have requests for training, so my other work isn’t interrupted][giving me an office with a door so I can have more privacy and quiet to concentrate on my other work][whatever specific thing you want your manager to do that’s both good for the team and for you].”
Basically, if it what you do is important, it might be too important to happen in this ad hoc way, and you can show some initiative while you create a structure that will give you more control over the situation.
The Smaller, Quotidian Picture: How to deal with the day-to-day drop-ins while you work on your bigger plan?
To Fight The Daily Kind Of Interruptions, Make (& Enforce) “Office Hours.”
Here’s how to get started:
- For the next week, if you don’t already, start keeping track of how you use your time each day. Don’t prescribe or change anything at first, just observe & record.
- See if there’s a specific time or day when requests for explanations & interruptions tend to pick up.
- Also record if you are getting the same question or kinds of questions from more than one person.
After that week or few days of observing, try this:
- When you first get to work in the morning, look at your to-do list and block out time in the day for each thing you have to work on. For example let’s imagine a 9-5 workday at an imaginary company. Say you have a day that looks sort of like this:
- 9-9:15 – Organize the day (fun to cross a thing off right at the start)
- 9:30-10 – Emails, meeting prep, anything urgent
- 10 -11 am – Conference Call
- 11 – 11:30 – Answer emails (in between messing about about on the internet reading blogs & stuff)
- 11:30 am – 1 pm – Work on a specific deliverable, like a document or a specific bit of code or a presentation [whatever you make or do].
- 1 – 2 pm Lunch
- 2 – 2:30 – Back from lunch, catch up on emails (& world events)
- 2-4:30 – Keep working on [whatever you make or do].
- 4:30-5 – Back up your work, send anything that needs to go out by day’s end, let your team know where things are, get organized for tomorrow.
- In your daily schedule, is there a good time (or at least a better time) to answer questions or train people on stuff? Carve those times out (draw a box around them, add gold stars, whatever, only you are looking at this right now) as your Office Hours. Those are the times where you can best respond to emailed requests for information or make some time to talk somebody through a process.
- Start re-directing people who drop by to email you their questions and use the times to set their expectations for when you’ll answer:
- “Hey Tad, can you email me your question? I’ll take a look and let you know what’s up by 2:30 today.”
- “Biff, happy to help, but I’m in the middle of something right now, send me an email?”
- “Greg, send me an email now and I’ll come find you after lunch if we need to go over it together.
- Over time, reset their expectations (and your expectations, which might be even harder) that it’s somehow “easier” if you just stop and cater to them immediately.
People may get impatient when you start doing this. They don’t want to do the work of composing an email and defining their question, they want you to “just fix it.” But they can survive not having everything they want when they want it. If you’re consistent and you follow up well, and you make reasonable exceptions for urgent/deadline situations, they will adjust. They will look up the answer. They will a ask someone else. They will email you, and if you don’t answer immediately, they will take a walk around the block or work on something else until you get back to them.
If you think it will cause real friction, or if for whatever reason you think it’s a good idea to loop your boss in, say: “Hey, I noticed I was spending a ton of time every day walking people through processes, I’m trying to channel those requests a little better so I can focus on [urgent stuff][your boss’s priorities].”
You aren’t doing anything wrong or mean or rude if you do this! You’re still gonna help people out, and you’re still gonna be friendly and helpful when you do, you’re just going to redirect the requests slightly so that you can:
- Prioritize – Is their stuff more urgent than the other stuff you’re working on? Maybe Trey’s question can wait until you meet your own deadlines that day.
- Document – How many questions *are* you getting in a day? A week? A month?
- Document, Part 2: Could the email you sent to Chad last week also answer the issue for Bryan, Ryan, Ross, and Chase this week? Are those emails and documents you send in response to their questions the seeds of documentation and training materials to use in the future (or when you take a vacation)(or get a better job someday).
- Categorize & Strategize – “Hey team, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to export the TPS reports properly as a .csv this week. Anyone who needs a quick review, meet me in the conference room at 3:00 today and we’ll spend 15 minutes on it. BYO caffeine.”
Methods For Thwarting The Manterruptions*
- Assume good faith…the first time. “Did you mean to interrupt me?” “I’m sure you didn’t mean to interrupt me, but…”
- Call it out. “Hey, you asked me this question – can you let me finish the sentence?“
- Spell it out. Wait until they stop, or, interrupt them right back. “Hey, I realize this is complex and detailed. Why don’t you email me and I’ll send you the step-by-step.”
- Spell it out & call it out…for repeat offenders. “Hey, I don’t think you realize this, but you keep asking me questions and then interrupting me when I try to answer them. What’s going on with that?”
- Tap out. Jared comes to ask you a question and Jesse “Well Actually” jumps in like the big goddamn hero of work procedures? Harness his manthusiasm! “Thanks, Jesse why don’t you walk Jared through it!” Then, if possible, throw your headphones back on or go get a glass of water from the kitchen and leave them to it.
- Wait them out. When Chaz and Jaxx interrupt you, stop engaging. Turn back to whatever you were doing before they interrupted you, or, stare at them and make a wicked awkward pause that gives them the opportunity to realize they interrupted you…again. Make them be the ones to say, “Whoa, sorry, I interrupted you. Please continue.“
None of these strategies are mean or rude or unprofessional. People can and will adjust, so, try them out and see if it gets better.
*Alternate Theories Of The Crime & Moderation Notes:
“Women interrupt people, too!” Yep! White women interrupt women of color. Older women interrupt younger women. Richer women interrupt those they perceive as poorer women. Also it is factually true that men interrupt women more than they interrupt each other and they do it way more than women interrupt men. The Letter Writer said this was the case where she works and she thinks gender is a factor in the interactions, and the research bears it out. Want some examples? 1 Even female Supreme Court justices get interrupted all the damb time 2 Seven Studies That Prove Mansplaining Exists. In conclusion: People interrupt people when they think they have more power and status and can get away with it. Gendered and other power-based interruptions are rude and oppressive and we all need to be more aware of it and do our best to nip those tendencies in themselves. Failing to name what it is out of a sense of false equivalency doesn’t solve the problem.
“But sometimes I interrupt people and I can’t always help it” Hello, my fellow enthusiastic ADHD-fast-flowing-ideas-sort-of-people! This isn’t a post specifically about us! We interrupt people sometimes! We also recognize that interrupting can be really annoying, and we work on not doing it to people so much! If someone in our workplace tried to get us to stop interrupting so much, that would be cool, right? Ergo, if you want to talk about this specific kind of interrupting, the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com might be a good place for that.
“What if the problem is that the LW talks a lot or too slowly or includes a lot of irrelevant information and her coworkers are just trying to get to the point?”
Well, her coworkers could email her then?
With all sincerity, I say this from painful & valuable personal experience as the hybrid of A Person Who Likes Explaining Stuff In Detail & TANGENT MAN, TANGENT MAN, DIGRESSES WHENEVER A TANGENT CAN:
If you find you get interrupted all the time, especially in conversations with peers (age group peers, gender peers, same level at work peers & other situations where a gender or power imbalance is not an identifiable factor), and it’s happening with a lot of different people and not just that one or two really talkative friends you have, I think it’s worth a gentle look at your own communication style.
Are you Treebeard, telling people about the whole history of the forest when they asked for one tree? Are your stories “all middle“? Are you dominating conversations when it comes to your favorite topic? Are you over-justifying because you grew up in a house where “No thanks” wasn’t allowed so you include 99 reasons along with every need or preference? If so, it doesn’t mean you’re an awful boring person and people secretly hate you! Or that you need to change your whole personality! I am all of these sort of people sometimes and I manage to be an okay amount of likeable. If this sounds like you, too, try to consider that interruptions can serve as valuable feedback, reminding you to tighten up your explanations and pay a little more attention to give and take.
For the Letter Writer, you say you know “your explanations can get a little detailed sometimes.” If you want to test out if this is part of the problem, try asking the person asking the question “How much detail do you need?” before you launch in.
114 thoughts on “#964: The Case Of The Interrupting Coworkers”
Personally I am all about the silence + stare until they wind down, then continue the silence until they ask me another question/to continue/whatever. Or, for my repeat offenders, a very polite “Are you done now?”
I was a department admin for four years, and hooooooo boy, I feel some of this pain.
I have some refinements to the Captain’s (great) ideas. Some sort of physical thing, if possible, might make people think twice about interrupting during non-office-hours. I’ve never had an office door that I could shut; it’s either been open-plan offices or shared spaces. Door-open vs. door-closed sends a message with private offices. Headphones sends a message, where that’s possible.
Since my job involved being available to be interrupted, the thing I had to mark was when I was unavailable, rather than when I was available. I would put a note on my cube’s whiteboard when I was working on a concentration-intensive, time-sensitive thing, asking people to email me unless it was literally on fire (and to not set it on fire, if it was not). There was a series of status-notes that I would put up with magnets. My team took a while to get it, but it did happen. There was a lot of “Hi, yes, I am working on [this thing]; please send me an email”; sometimes if I got the sense that they would balk at email, I would ask them to write it down on paper, or visibly write it down myself, and then return to the original task. (Occasionally it was something actually urgent, at which point I would thank them for their skill at triage and identifying that it was in fact worth interrupting me. That helped them calibrate.)
I’m AD(H?)D and I will hyperfocus; I can be perfectly oblivious to things going on around me and will visibly (and unpleasantly) startle when jolted out of that state. I tried to train people to go into my field of vision and wave at me until I noticed them, and by no means to touch me if I didn’t notice them. That didn’t work out well due to the cube layout. I finally wound up with a $20 battery-powered wireless doorbell that also blinked in addition to chiming, and unscrewed the back and unplugged the speaker wires. That rendered it a cubicle-friendly silent visual doorbell. I left the blinker under my monitor in my line of sight, blue-taped the button to the cube entrance, and showed a few key people my nifty new tech toy. Eventually I caught seasoned staff orienting the new staff: here is the “hummingbird feeder” with the jellybeans, here are all the post-its, here is the doorbell *and don’t touch the admin*!
I am head over heels in love with your doorbell idea. Brilliant!
All the visual-specific doorbells (aimed at Deaf, deaf, and hard of hearing markets) were way out of my price range, and were often advertised as having a very loud alert tone. I saw this doorbell while shopping at my favorite local semi-independent electronics chain, and thought, well, maybe I could trace the circuits and turn off the speaker by cutting the correct wire. Turned out that it was connected with an adorable little plug, so I didn’t even have to do any cutting.
The hardest person to train was the department’s director, my grandmanager. But after I nearly fell out of my chair in surprise one too many times (I was always so apologetic about my reaction), and I showed him the nifty toy, he too got on board…
You sound like the kind of person I’d like to work with. I love your creative solutions to People Problems!
Sadly I can’t copy it because I work in different elementary schools (think the secretarial equivalent of a supply teacher), so it’s not my office in the first place, and my job is designed to be interrupted. But the kids are usually well trained by the regular admin (we’re the gatekeepers to Ice, Bandaids, and Calling My Parent, so -even though we wouldn’t withhold those things anyway – the kids are usually very good at making sure I’m done my task before they say “excuse me”). Their parents can be a whole different matter.
Ha! I love the blinking doorbell & “don’t touch the admin”! I really could have used the doorbell in my last job.
Your doorbell is a magnificent solution! My story pales in comparison, but …I worked with a woman who, when all else failed, bought herself an elaborate bejeweled tiara at the Dollar/Party/Princess Store, and would wear it whenever she was heads-down in a task. The visual cue worked where subtler headphones hadn’t; plus, she got to wear a tiara.
That is glorious!
Ouch, LW! This is awful. I absolutely second everything the Cap says here. I would also recommend checking out some of the scripts over at Ask A Manager for additional ways to talk about this with your boss if this isn’t something you want to/need to be spending as much time on.
At this point, I would be tempted to throw my hands up and say, “Do you want my advice or not?” If you’re feeling more patient, then “What makes you say that?” Maybe there’s something in their training or documentation that is incorrect.
LW, as someone who also apparently looks younger than she is I feel you on all of this. I also have been blessed with a quiet voice that does not carry, so talking over people when they try to interrupt isn’t really an option because I am so easily shouted (or loud-talked) down. Since people are coming to you and need you advice, disengaging is a potentially very effective option for you. If someone is really persistent in interrupting you to disagree with your instructions, you might consider cutting the ad hoc training session short with something like, “The file should be in *.csv format, but you seem pretty confident that you know what you’re doing, so I’m going to get back to my own work and let you get on with yours,” and let them sink or swim on their own. Repeat as needed until they learn to stop disagreeing with your answers to questions they asked.
The impression I got from the example was that the interrupter wasn’t the person asking for help, though.
In which case it’s a lot more clear-cut to say “can you not? Busy here!” But also, as it may be someone who is not-at-all-new, more politically tricky.
Ah yes, you’re right. I totally missed that line. I think then the strategy is not to say anything to the interrupter and to say quietly to the person being trained, “I’m not sure why Steve thinks that, but he’s mistaken,” and then carry on. If Steve persists, then the LW could try saying something like, “Steve, I’m in the middle of helping Darren with something. Could you please stop interrupting?” or if she wants to be a little firmer, “Steve, Darren came to me for advice. If he wanted your help, he would have gone to you. Please leave us to it,” or “Steve, I know you’re trying to be helpful with your interjections, but you’re not. Please stop.”
I had that a lot “thing needs to be x and not y” when I was training staff and I took to specifically saying something like “oh wow, thanks! Of course it does need to be *.cvs not excel, so you need to show me the document with this incorrect information so it can be updated as a matter of urgency!” Then 9 times of the 10 they’d never come back because they’d check the document and see I was right but deal with that realisation in private, and the tenth time the incorrect info got updated and they felt like they’d helped.
I have had people tell me, Oh, that line wasn’t in the documentation when I looked at it before.
Like, an hour ago.
Yes, we totally updated a printed document behind your back! Because we are evil! Bwahaha! – is something that I am not allowed to say at work, darn it.
I have, in the last few years, started having this experience myself. I’ve no idea what causes it (maybe just stress?), but it is possible to look at the same paragraph twice and read two completely different things. It’s very unsettling.
I have used that strategy to great success. You’re not calling them a liar, but pulling them in as a partner to help you out. Also reinforces your position as The One Who Knows. FWIW, I’m also female and look younger than my age.
Yes, this! For the record, I, too, am a woman who looks comparatively young. I work in administration at a university, so the populations of people who want to talk over me and tell me I’m wrong are usually students, parents of students, and faculty members (interestingly enough, graduate instructors tend to be more deferential when they call me with questions, for whatever reason). When someone tries to insist to me that the policy regarding grade appeals in Advanced Underwater Stenography Studies is X, and I know it to be Y because I work with these issues every day of my working life, it’s really effective to put on a very concerned voice and ask them to tell me where they read the incorrect information, so we can get our webmaster to correct it. Usually, they figure out that they are wrong, or, in one memorable instance, that they were reading from an outdated document so old it was actually printed on a mimeograph machine. I pretend that I believe the other person is 100% acting in good faith, even when it’s clear that the other person is actually just trying to pull a power play. This, combined with the ability to deploy weapons-grade niceness, tends to cause a short-circuit in certain types of aggressive people–it doesn’t give them anything to push back against.
No advice, just so much commiseration.
When I was a kid I was taught that I was too direct and didn’t give enough detail, so I trained myself to give ALL THE INFOs (all of them) and this served me well in college (humanities subjects looooove long-windedness lol) and in my retail work as well (I literally once asked customers did they want the long or short answer, they said short and got annoyed when it was “no.” The long answer included all the whys and wherefores, and they left happy. Tried and tested method of finding out what works). In recent interviews (jobseeking SUCKS) I got feedback that my communication skills needed work (aka I was too wordy). Untraining my brain to be short & to the point is so hard for me. Not going to lie, the last interview that gave me that feedback I was the sole female candidate and I did not get the job, making me both bitter and insecure in a whole new way. (And in my anecdote I prove how I communicate by giving ALL THE INFOs. All of them.)
And telling my cousin (male, younger than me and a cop) about it and about my job search in general, I got Manterrupted and Mansplained so badly that I had very violent visions despite him being one of my favourite relations. I learned a valuable lesson from him: never talk about anything deeper than the weather with him.
Since you can’t just stop talking to the guys who Manterrupt and Mansplain to you I wonder if it’s possible to just be equally as condescending in revenge. Keep your tone of voice very teacher-y and see how irritated they get (I wish…)
I have the exact same problem! I was trained to be way too wordy because I had to cover ALL bases with everything I said so my emotionally abusive mother would have fewer loopholes to jump into and ambiguous comments to deliberately misinterpret.
I think that also contributes to me getting interrupted a lot (I am also female,young looking, introverted and very small, which is… unhelpful). Often I think people interrupt to mansplain or finish a story for me (incorrectly) because I’m taking too long about it.
*hugs (if you want them)*
I also should have said that teachers aren’t condescending, but there is a very condescending teacher-y tone of voice that can really get under the skin. I have, in the past, jokingly said “gather ’round children, and I’ll tell you XYZ” and the females in the group laughed (I don’t remember how the males reacted, lol, but I wasn’t Manterrupted)
Depending on your workplace culture, you may have to be extremely careful about addressing this. If the interrupters outrank you, you may face reprisals for not letting them interrupt you. They may consider your not letting them interrupting you insubordination, which can land you in seriously hot water.
Uh. Based on the letter, this advice doesn’t seem too relevant or helpful to the LW. Like the Captain said, telling someone not to interrupt an explanation they asked for is neither rude nor insubordinate, and the LW mentioned the guys giving her trouble where newer than she. So I wouldn’t tell her to be afraid of adressing this. Polite and careful, yeah, but no sense in making her even more anxious about these interactions.
This might be one of those things that varies by culture… In most environments I’ve been in personally, interjecting when another person is speaking is not only accepted but very commonplace, though there are unspoken guidelines about how often or how long an interjection is approporiate. But even if the person was junior to you, telling them to ‘stop interrupting’ would be a bit of a strong option unless it was in a very joky tone, and very rarely done. Saying that to a superior would be kind of a nuclear option and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that.
From other comments this seems like it varies from environment to environment.
That’s a good point. Would scripts like “Yeah, I was just getting to that”, “I need to just finish this point first, and then I can answer your question” or “Please hold your questions till the end” be acceptable in the kind of environments you’re talking about?
Still, I don’t really think these interruptions are really about politeness or different communicative styles, since the main guilty parties are newer male hires correcting the LW on something she knows better than they. To me, that sounds like insecure masculinity trying to assert itself by stepping on others, so I suspect these interruptions are more about control and dominance than they are about exchanging information.
Excuse me. I meant “interrupt you,” not “interrupting you.”
As the older sister of a chronic interrupter/mansplainer, this is basically a daily battle for me until I can afford to move out. Most of my strategies aren’t really translatable to the working world, but I second everything the Captain has put forth. My only possible addition was that, with the chronic offenders, you can feel free to interrupt right back. You don’t always have to be the good you want to see in the world. And it’s very easy to frame it as a favour you’re doing them: “In the interest of saving time, can I finish what I saying first?” “I only have a few minutes to devote to this, so I need to finish what I was saying.”
I also second Janissary Jones’ Ask A Manager recommendation. Allison has the metaphorical social sweeper for every workplace landmine you could possibly imagine.
I have been known to say “will you please shut up and let me finish?” Not a strategy that works for everyone, but I get away with it.
Having training materials sounds like a good idea. If I were the employee, I’d have an easier time navigating documents to where I could scroll back and forth to find exactly what I need, especially if there were screenshots. It would save LW a lot of time too!
I’d rather not approach someone with a question unless it was something the person could answer in a couple sentences. Right now LW is doing training on top of her other work.
This, so much. Particularly if it’s a new task or procedure for me, I’m not going to have it mastered by the second time either – referring back to a document would be so much less cringe-y than ‘Hey LW, mind walking me through the exact thing you had to walk me through last week?’.
This might be because you are not a man-splainer? Who knows everything already, and if you have to ask a second time, its because the little lady did not do a good job of explaining it in the first place.
Also, looking it up in the docs is -almost- as bad as consulting a map when a man is absolutely not lost. They (the all-knowing mysterious they) might take away his man-card for looking it up in the docs.
LOL Thank you for this. I have no patience for the mansplainers.
LOL, tangent man. 🙂 I needed that joke. and the reminder that people don’t secretly hate me for [random perceived flaw]. (and the whole preemptive mod notes thing is a great idea!)
I had a male boss who would frequently interrupt his staff (except the one other man), and not in a way that a boss sometimes needs to interrupt in a meeting to move things along. It was almost like a verbal tick with him – he would ask a question, then when someone was answering, interrupt in the middle of the answer to repeat the question or to make some irrelevant comment. It’s hard to explain, but 90% of the time it was definitely interrupting just because he could. My solution probably wasn’t the best, but I, and most of the other women who worked for him, ended up just continuing to talk and maybe getting a little bit louder.
We have one of those at my work too. Once, as an experiment, I decided to just continue talking when he inevitably interrupted me. Result? We both continued talking until our respective sentences were finished. He didn’t even notice THAT I WAS STILL TALKING. And then he kept going as if I had said nothing.
The most recent time, he interrupted me in the middle of a question to answer it. Unfortunately for him, he guessed wrong about what the question was. I let him finish, and then said in my best Very Dim Student Is Testing Teacher’s Patience voice, “Jasper. That’s not what I was asking. Let me finish my sentence.”
He always sulkily “apologizes,” but NEVER STOPS INTERRUPTING. AUGH.
This sounds exactly like my mother except she doesn’t apologize!
Ugh, yeah, mine generally would just keep talking, but he would mostly realize that he missed half of what I said (that he knew he was now supposed to respond to) at the end and ask me to repeat it.
Ha, I wish I could have gotten away with the Patient Teacher voice! I hope you don’t have to deal with yours frequently 😦
This sounds exactly like my partner. He is trying to work on it but…
I kind of disagree with the captain. The first part about making all your work known I completely agree with. And making a helper bossier will be great. But the second part is just ridiculously complicated method of scheduling and accommodating the people who are bothering her. The lw can always say “actually i am really busy right now” or “I don’t think I noticed but you just interrupted me. I am sure you didn’t mean it but it came of very rude”. I am sure the captain is really busy but the third part of the response just went on way to long and was a great example of what the captain was talking about. A good re read might have helped this letter.
The intent is never to make the detailed schedule public to others, or keep posted set office hours, it’s just a tool for the LW to plan her own time and help her defend it better. Sorry it didn’t translate.
Posting office hours is not necessarily a bad idea. Unless you can get everyone to submit all their questions in writing, office hours might be the only way to control when people break into your day.
What you want to do is cut down the number of people who barge in on your day, because whether you give a substantive response or say “I’m busy,” you’ve still been interrupted.
And if you say “I’m busy” they’ll just come back and barge in at another time. When you’ll no doubt be equally busy. Unless you tell them a specific time to come back.
Figure out the best time of your day, and don’t start any deep or lengthy projects in that time: use it for email, admin work, quick phone calls, etc. If someone comes in, help them, and if they don’t, awesome you got done a bunch of little stuff that always gets put off.
It can be tough to enforce a rule like that, but people will adjust quickly enough. “I’m really busy right now, I can help you at X time.” Sooner or later, most people will figure it out, and those who don’t, you just have to keep telling them. But in the meantime, at least everyone else isn’t barging in all the time.
Agreed. This will also help the letter writer with her own work management. It need not and probably should not be posted. I think of it like a to-do list.
I think the schedule is a great idea and the intent behind is perfectly clear. Mapping out the work day is a useful exercise in general, but particularly useful for the LW, since her question was not “How Do I Get My Coworkers To Stop Badgering Me With Questions?”, it was “How Do I Get My Coworkers Respect My Time And Expertise When I’m Answering Their Questions?”
Set office hours (even if they’re only set in LW’s private notebook) are a great way to put boundaries around her time while preserving a part of the job she actually enjoys.
LW, you’re not making this a sexism thing. The mansplainers are making it a sexism thing by being sexist.
I heartily second the Captain’s suggestions of setting office hours and requiring emails.
After answering the same question over and over, and improving it each time because every new person finds something new to mess up, you find you’ve got a handy how-to memo that you can just hand to the next guy. Get your boss on board with your plan to establish procedures, both for how you handle inquiries, and on what you’re telling people, so it’s official and you won’t get blowback about it.
“The worst is when people interrupt me to “correct” me on something I know extremely well.”
I just punched a wall in your honor.
Exactly! After the first paragraph I started to wonder if LW was a woman, and after The worst is when people interrupt me to “correct” me on something I know extremely well. I moved on to “I bet myself $50 LW is a woman.” What do you know, I owe myself $50. Let’s all pretend literally anything whatsoever LW getting interrupted by men constantly is the tiniest surprise 😡
LW, it is 100% not you making this a sexism thing, the men who are being sexist are making this a sexism thing. You are not oversensitive!
On the downside, I don’t have any particular advice for you. I’ve run into men interrupting me or just not listening in the first place over and over and I don’t have a good solution. In meetings I’ve sometimes been able to use a man as a mouthpiece, but with 1:1 interruptions I don’t have anything to add that the captain hasn’t already covered. Sorry LW, things just suck sometimes.
I did exactly the same thing while reading this letter, except I didn’t put a specific dollar amount on it. But, yeah.
I worked at a company where we were encouraged to talk not email. I think your company is my former company’s dysfunctional cousin. Because dropping by really can work:
– If you notify people
– Or, at least, you take only minimal time
So, in addition to the Captain’s advice, I’ll add what I did when drop bys were unwanted and time-consuming.
– When they walk over, keep an arm on your desk as you pivot your chair
– Ask if this will take more than 2 minutes,
. if the answer is yes, look at your schedule and say “x time is good for me. Talk to you then.” Turn back to your work.
. If the answer was it will be brief, answer as much as you can in two minutes, and say “we’ll have to schedule something. Write it up, X time is good for me.”
– While talking, dead silence for interruptions, followed by, “Ok, we’re done.”
– Write up the question and answer, and time spent, and put it in your daily status. The write up time is part of it. Viz: question from X about Y, 15 minutes.
– Indicate (actual numbers!) in your weekly status to your boss how much time
In former company, we had codes for anything we spent time on. Including interruptions. Or if we didn’t, we had comments. Our managers tried to manage this stuff.
I cut down on the work I was doing for other people by about 90% when I learnt to say “I’ll need that in writing”.
Turned out that the same people who didn’t show me any respect and consideration in my work didn’t want to be people with a paper trail of needing me to help them.
There was one of my department who would come over and give me various types of hell verbally; I would then send her an email (with or without our manager in on the loop) summarizing our conversation, including what she’d asked for and what I said could give her. It helped keep some of the hell down to a dull roar. 😉
That was far less of an Overbearing Dude dynamic, though.
I am stealing your idea.
I have arranged an 11 person team to pull off this heist, because it is such a great idea.
Oh, LW. As someone who is constantly interrupted (by friends, family, coworkers, literally everyone, including otherwise sweet and wonderful people who love me), it is frustrating as hell to not be heard. I think my problem is a combination of being young, female, extremely shy/reserved, having a naturally quiet voice, and getting easily flustered/stammery when I do try to talk for any length of time. And then being interrupted makes it harder to assert myself in the first place, which perpetuates the whole mess. I don’t have any actual advice because I struggle with this like woah, but I offer solidarity. Being interrupted constantly is irritating and demoralizing as fuck. I hope the Captain’s advice helps.
I definitely feel ya there – as someone who was raised and socialized super hard to always be “nice” and “good” (translation: Never Assert Yourself Ever) it was hard as hell for me to deal with being interrupted.
One day I finally got so frustrated with a particular interrupter that I forgot to care if I was being rude. Turns out, at least in my case, a lot of the fluster was coming from a deep-seated Fear of Being Rude. But people are being rude by interrupting me! I deserve niceness and goodness from other people as much as they deserve it from me! When I decided that rudeness in means rudeness out, it suddenly got a lot easier to stand up for myself. What – are they going to get mad and stop talking to me? GOOD.
TL;DR: YMMV, but running out of fucks to give really helps.
Ugh, I hear you on the ‘nice’ and ‘good’ fronts. That sort of training is super insidious and hard to let go of. And it’s hard to convince my brainweasels that hey, what I say is just as important and valid and worthy of being heard as literally everyone else’s. And a well-timed ‘running out of fucks’ is definitely powerful–I’ll keep it in my arsenal for the future.
That sounds frustrating! I (young, female, quiet-voiced, and somewhat reserved) also have a lot of trouble being heard, although in my case it’s most applicable in group settings, when the effort of following conversations and projecting above other people’s noise is usually more than I want to take on.
Since you say you’re being interrupted all the time and in all settings, though, maybe you could benefit from practicing a couple of scripts to use in conversations with close friends or other people who you trust to react kindly? I know that for me, working on asserting myself in lower-stakes situations (“Hey, well-meaning friend who is very excited about [Thing], I actually wasn’t done talking when you interrupted me.”) has given me more confidence to assert myself in other situations.
I’m actually much better than I used to be–with friends and family my go-to thing is usually a super loud, overdramatic throat clearing and a pointed look (I can be VERY loud when I try, it’s just not my default state), and since the people I run with are generally of the unintentionally thoughtless and not intentionally rude sort, they get what they did, they laugh, I laugh, I finish what I was trying to say and everyone moves on. I think everyone is so used to the ‘wordnerd is so quiet’ narrative that when I do speak up, it’s unexpected enough that it doesn’t register to people that mouthwords are coming from my side of the room until the interruption has already happened.
It’s definitely a process though. Especially when I’m low on ‘asserting myself’ batteries and just let it go without a fight, or if I’m in a situation where this level of joking isn’t appropriate. I’ll try to work more ‘using my words’ into my daily life. 🙂
“Is the stuff you know about how to do those processes written down somewhere? When was it last updated?”
This is HUGE. I can’t recall a job where half the manuals were last updated in 1996. Nobody wants to do it because it’s boring and blah blah blah; but it’s a helluva lot less costly than having multiple employees have to explain that we don’t do it that way anymore, we do it THIS way…
A good workflow for me on that was:
Someone asks me how to do the thing.
As close to immediately as possible, I skim through the manual and see if it looks accurate, and look at the revision date (it was usually wikis so that was easy to find). (Sometimes that’s when I finish the task; that script goes “We have some documentation on it; it’ll take me X minutes to get what I’m doing to a stopping point and then I can find it for you.” Sometimes they’ll go “Oh, I can find that!” and wander off there.)
If the documentation seems accurate after the first pass, I give it over to the person, and tell them: “This was last revised [on date/in year]; if you find any problems while you’re doing it, let me know what went wrong so I can make sure it gets updated.”
If it does not seem accurate, I let them know that the documentation is out of date, and it will take me probably [however much time] to get it up to date.
I update the documentation.
I hand it off to the person and tell them to let me know if they discover any problems (or better, update it themselves, possibly).
It was always the new employee’s responsibility to help find out-of-date items in the onboarding documentation, for example…
like some people have already pointed out it sounds like you are being mansplained to. Mansplaining does not necessarily mean that the person doing it has to be male. It is a pattern of behaviour which has more to do with being in control (correcting other people) as it has with actually requiring advice. I wonder if you could observe how different people behave when they come to you asking questions. Are there some people who are just happy to get an answer – and are there others who especially want to correct you? Does this correcting behaviour usually happen at a certain time (for example after a meeting)? According to my experience people seem to be doing this in order to boost their own self esteem, their own view of being a knowledgeable person who has things under control. If you notice that there are people who ask you questions just to correct you, could you make a mental note of it and follow the Captains great advice to forward especially these people to written instructions?
For example like this:
Splainer: “Could you explain me [things]?
You: “I am busy just now. Did you check from the instructions?”
You: “Sure, but did you see the updated instructions? Those are really good. If I were you I would check there first.”
(Now I wonder if that sounds blunt since that is the norm in my culture. We prefer things to be brief.)
Sadly, in my field of expertise (agriculture) female and more junior people tend to be needlessly (and often wrongly) corrected all the time. We just discussed this at the university and even some young looking professors told that they are constantly corrected and been asked questions which have nothing to do with their area of expertise. Our professor of agricultural technology, a young and friendly looking man, is constantly asked about whether strawberry is a fruit or a berry (it is an accessory fruit, if anyone is interested).
I especially notice this when I am on the field with my spouse (an entomologist).
For example like this:
Me: “Such a beautiful hoverfly!”
Someone (often male): “That is not a fly, that is a wasp.” (hoverflies do often look a bit like wasps; the mimicry is a way to keep them safe)
My spouse (male): “Oh, what an exquisite hoverfly!”
Someone: “I knew it was a hoverfly, like I just told.”
LW, you sound like a wonderfully patient and kind individual who has apparently put up with this annoying behaviour for a long time already. The Captain gave really good advice. Take care of yourself and your time! Luckily to me it sounds like you appreciate your own skills and your time. Please, keep doing that. You are great.
Strawberry accessory fruits. And… blueberry? Kiwi? Mango?
I want to wear them.
OMG, accessory fruits. I did not even notice that at first since I thought of the term in my native language – but it is indeed funny in English. Maybe a patient accessory fruit could always be there to remind us to be strong in the face of splaining.
Blueberries and kiwi fruits are berries and mango is a drupe (or stone fruit). They clearly have nothing to strawberries. 😀
I want to wear them anyway!
You can! https://michael-michaud.com/collections/blueberry
At OldJob I created a book for newbies. Still got interrupted but being able to pull my book down and walk them through it weeded out the ones trying to make me do it for them.
Notable Exception: One day, a co-worker I’ll call Noodle Guy, interrupted me to ask a question about a ledger book. In the middle of my explanation a male coworker walks in and Noodle Guy leaves me in midsentence to ask male coworker the exact question I was in the middle of answering. I chose to take a walk on the property to cool off.
I used to be the only person with a desk job (and projects, and deadlines) in a place where everyone else was doing front-end work. The vast majority of them were apparently incapable of comprehending that if they stopped me while I was in the middle of something, it slowed down my work a lot. Requests to please leave me to finish my work because this is URGENT were going nowhere, or actively backfiring. I couldn’t ask them to email me instead because we just didn’t have that kind of set up.
Then, one happy day, the management decided that everyone had to do a series of computer-based courses…. sitting at a desk, reading information, answering questions… and I returned the favour. There wasn’t a time limit on their work, or I wouldn’t have been so evil, but I’m weak. A couple of them apologised afterwards. Apparently they’d genuinely never understood how disruptive that kind of behaviour is.
I’m not advocating tit-for-tat as a general policy – that’s how wars start. But I wonder how many obnoxious people don’t realise how obnoxious they are purely because everyone around them just doesn’t pull certain kinds of shit.
I’m going to admit a little confusion; I think it’s reasonable for someone you are explaining to to interrupt for clarification so they don’t loose the thread. Based on the specific example provided, it sounds like the person didn’t realize/remember a .csv file was an excel file. But yes I agree with the above if people are just being inpatient or losing the thread because they are not actually paying attention to your answer. Also if they are just dropping by whenever and expecting you to drop everything to help them frequently – yes I agree with much of the above advice if people are treating you like you like you could not possibly be doing anything more importantly than helping them whenever they randomly have a question they have put little thought into answering themselves.
I’m hoping it wasn’t intentional, but you just repeated (probably almost verbatim) the unhelpful file-splaining the LW objected to in the example. Where a LW identifies an interruption as incorrect and unhelpful, especially in the context of a gendered pattern, I’d like to suggest we start by believing her.
A .csv (Comma Separated Values) file is not an Excel (.xls or .xlsx) file and the two are not interchangeable. While a .csv can be opened in Excel, it is its own, separate open source file format. Excel file formats are proprietary and require specific coding to use. If the database program the LW is teaching new hires about uses .csv, then an Excel file won’t work/won’t work properly/will take a lot more space/will cause the database to gain sentience and start raining terror from above.
So, sure, interrupt for clarification (if actually necessary), but don’t assume you (specifically, or people in general) know more about required file types than the person experienced in running the system. If you think a .csv is the same as an excel file, then why not phrase it as a question – “is that a kind of excel file?” so that they can kindly disabuse you and save the human race.
*.csv is not an excel file.
*.xl* are excel files.
*.csv is a text file with data separated by comma (Comma Separated Values). Excel can save to *.csv and other text files, but that is not the default, you have to jump through a couple of hoops to get there (Save As, choose *.csv, tell excel that you really mean that). Saving a *.csv as an Excel file will make it unreadable to any automated process.
I’m pretty sure that this is a sexism thing, based on my own experience. In a case like this, I would totally pull the guy aside after and say, ‘your information is not correct; *.csv =/= *.xls, and this process requires *.csv; and also you interrupted me to give this incorrect information. Don’t interrupt me, that’s rude. Especially don’t interrupt me with wrong information.’
I do like the ‘get it in writing’ part, and OP, it won’t take this fun piece of your job away, it will open new areas for you to document and teach. People never RTFM the first time, but having a Fine Manual will cut down on your repeat problems and give you backup should ‘Actually it’s excel’ guy push back.
Reread. This was a third party interrupting LW as they were explaining procedures to the explainee.
(Also yes, no, .csv files are not Excel files just because Excel can open them, just like .rtf files are not Word files just because Word can open them.)
” I don’t think it’s right to interrupt someone whose day you’ve disrupted, ”
She does specifically mention being interrupted by the person who asked her for help.
I also find this slightly confusing, because if I’m explaining something to someone, I expect them to interject occasionally to repeat back/clarify/etc.
And if they are confused about something I said or it contradicts something they thought, that would also be one example of a time I’d expect them to interrupt me.
If they were silent for a long time I might actually think they’d tuned out or lost the plot. It would be an odd kind of conversation if they were totally silent or never interjected at all.
Presumably the interrupting the LW is experiencing feels different from the normal ‘active listening’ kind of interrupting?
If it was happening with everyone I might wonder if there was a family/cultural difference and she had a different expectation of what active listening looks like. But the fact that it’s coming disproportionately with certain people ( men her age) makes that seem a lot less likely.
I was referring to “I had one guy do this (the interrupting) on his first day, as I was explaining something to a neighbouring employee.” She doesn’t say “as I was explaining it to him.” And that’s the only specific instance in her letter.
Sorry, my bad. Got confused.
I’ve had it happen though. People ask me a question, I answer, and then they argue with my response.
Nah, I feel like you’re equating “interrupting” with “responding.” LW isn’t asking that people sit silently and stare glassy-eyed while she monologues at them. She’s just asking that people listen to what she’s saying. I once read a book – and this was a book about helping parents communicate with their teenage children, but bear with me – that pretty precisely highlighted the differences between types of interruptions. This got long, so feel free to pretend you never saw this comment reply.
Dad: How was school?
Daughter: Ugh. Crazy!
Daughter: Ashley’s mad at Deanna because Deanna said she was the one who started putting her bangs to the side first, but Ashley’s all like, ‘okay, but the lady at Fantastic Sam’s was the one who showed me how to – ‘
Dad: Can you set the table, please?
Daughter: – okay. Um, anyway, so Deanna’s not going to Ashley’s party and she says she’s gonna –
Dad: Did you put out napkins?
Daughter: Ugh! Forget it!
In this situation, Dad was interrupting Daughter. He made it clear he didn’t care about what she was saying. What he was doing was more important than what she was doing. Daughter didn’t feel listened to.
Dad: How was school?
Daughter. Ugh. Crazy!
Daughter: Ashley’s mad at Deanna because Deanna said she was the one who started putting her bangs to the side first, but –
Dad: Wait, Deanna Logan or Deanna Carter?
Daughter: Deanna Carter. And Ashley’s all like, ‘okay, but the lady at Fantastic Sam’s was the one who showed me how to do my bangs like that.’
Dad: Ooh, I bet she didn’t like that.
Daughter: For real! Deanna’s not going to Ashley’s party and she says she’s gonna go the pool that day instead, and she –
Dad: Wow, that’s passive aggressive.
Daughter: I know!
This situation is a lot like the “active listening” you were describing. In this situation, Dad is actively listening. He’s talking in the middle of her sentence, but he’s not interrupting the conversation: he’s engaging with it. It shows that he’s interested in and following along with what Daughter is talking about.
You’re right that there are cultural norms with regards to types of interruptions: i.e. there are people who would find both of these scenarios annoying and think they were rude. However, the situations LW describes are pretty clearly those of men cutting her off in the middle of her sentence to “correct” her on shit. These men aren’t valuing her expertise on the subject, and instead are talking over her to push their own objectives. Which leads us to “mansplaining,” which isn’t just rude interruptions, nor is it just rude interruptions by a person who thinks they know better than you do: it’s a specific pattern of behavior performed consistently by men, consistently to women, and it’s a behavior LW is encountering often enough that she wrote in for advice on asserting the value of her time and knowledge. I think we could make a third scenario that reflects what LW is describing.
Man: Hey, can you show me how to make this sandwich again?
Woman: Sure. You start with a piece of bread. Then you add meat.
Man: Actually, I think you’re supposed to put cheese before the meat.
Woman: You can, but for this sandwich, it works better if the meat goes on fi –
Man: Oh, and you have lettuce out, but this one comes with spinach.
Woman: The –
Man: But you’re going really good so far.
Just a very quick comment: we found it very helpful in my place of employment to make a private Wiki that explained how to do everything in great detail (with screenshots and photos as needed). We also maintain a “How To” folder that we keep next to complicated instruments that contains solutions for common and not so common problems. This has cut down on 95% of the questions and made training new research assistants a breeze.
Oh, yes, to the written procedures. Every new employee should get either a hard copy or be directed to an internal source. It saves so much time. The only drawback is that someone has to review these things once in a while, because they tend to be left in place until they are no longer accurate or relevant. It’s a good project for that week after New Years when there isn’t much new project work to start on.
Had a newish (male) coworker interrupt me along these lines recently. He has a habit of cutting off *everyone*. He came over to ask me my processes for a specific task and then cut me off to an ask unrelated, leading question. I stopped him–cut him off–by saying, “Do NOT interrupt me if you want a full explanation.” Then I finished. He has not cut me off again, though he also didn’t retain the information as I hear him giving out incorrect information to his clients…. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ #notmyproblem
Loving the comment from the mansplaining article that every girl should learn to say “I just said that.” I use this phrase all the time. A variant is “I said that to YOU.” Sometimes you share your controversial opinion with a man, he says nothing to indicate that he heard it, and then the next time you see him he repeats your stance *verbatim* as though he was the one who cooked it up. I wait until they’re done and say “I’m the one that said that to you. Remember? Last Thursday when we were eating barbecue at Bob’s house?” Cue a look of total confusion.
At times, I’ve been able to inject some humor/sarcasm: ie. Man: “great idea I just said.” Me: “What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that?”
So much commiseration here. I have been in a similar situation, and calling out the interrupting is key.
Be prepared, however, for some “joking” comments on the changed behavior from you and be ready to SHUT THAT ISH DOWN.
Especially if this is a behavior with a sexist undercurrent as you suspect it is, they may try to cover their bruised ego with a joke about how difficult you’re being/what a whipcracker/hardass/shrew you’re being (actual things said to me in response to an interruption shutdown at work), and be armed with a response or a Weaponized Agressive Awkward Silence so they don’t just shift from interrupting you to undercutting you with commentary.
Reminds me of this old chestnut:
Q: Knock knock
A: Who’s there?
Q: The interrupting Cow-Orker!
A: The Interrupting Cow… (Q, interrupting:) MOO!!!
I like everything the Captain has said. Lots of good, usable advice.
In addition, I’d suggest looking into why this makes you So. Painfully. Angry. I can understand being annoyed. But if you actually have to cancel your evening plans because some idiot said something idiotic to you, there maybe be something more going on there. You are making yourself suffer for their faults.
Is it just the sense of powerlessness? If so, taking more control of your time and workload as the Captain suggested may help.
How about trying to look at it with a more humorous eye? Isn’t it at least a little funny, that a guy on his first day is correcting you? For the new hires, I bet you can condescend right back at them. “I know I don’t look it, Jesse, but I’ve been doing these tasks since before you were in college. It’s a csv.” I also really like the idea of asking him for the source of the incorrect information.
I don’t think the LW needs to self examine to ascertain why chronic disrespect from her co workers makes her very angry. I think its an appropriate reaction- see straws, camels, backs briken thereof.
Isn’t it at least a little funny, that a guy on his first day is correcting you?
Not really? I mean, it might be, if it wasn’t for the fact that this type of sexist patronising behaviour is incredibly fucking common and something that goes on and on with no end in sight every time the newest privileged cis-dude gets hired.
“Hey, LW, why don’t you just cajole these fellows with a little good humor, instead of being so unreasonably irritated at their boyish foibles? After all, THEY aren’t making you suffer – you’re making YOURSELF suffer!”
If only LW had seen fit to view disrespect and rudeness – amplified by the constant ‘background radiation’ level misogyny in our culture – as the giggle-fest that it is!
What I find helps me in being less angry at people being rude to me is for people to be rude to me less often.
In addition to the points made above, I’d like to point out that it is men the same age as the LW who are the primary offenders, so she doesn’t have the “you young whippersnappers” card to pull on them.
Seriously, you read this letter and decided to come mansplain to the LW that her being relentlessly disrespected isn’t the real problem, it’s that she’s having completely normal feelings about it is?
LW, you are allowed to have feelings about being disrespected! You are allowed to take care of yourself by staying home when you have those feelings! It is 100% not your fault that you have feelings about being disrespected, it’s the fault of the people disrespecting you. It would still be very, very rude to mansplain things to you even if you didn’t personally hate it.
Isn’t it at least a little funny, that a guy on his first day is correcting you?
No. The reason you think it’s funny is that as a man, you don’t get disrespected in that particular way. When it happens over and over and over along with all the other microaggressions women deal with constantly, it’s not at all funny and in fact it’s very rude of you to suggest that it’s funny when people disrespect the LW.
Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine that some of your coworkers like to get your attention by flicking you on the ear. Funny, right? What a weird way to get someone’s attention! Now imagine that happens multiple times a day, Every. Single. Day. For. Years. Imagine that every time you complain about it, the person who just flicked you says “It’s just one flick, what are you so upset about? Geez, calm down.” Do you think maybe, just maybe, you might be the tiniest bit upset about constant ongoing disrespect no matter how small each individual action is?
I assume it’s some version of the straw that broke the camel’s back. And that she would probably not find it nearly as upsetting if she didn’t get the distinct impression that it was related to a lack of respect for her specifically, rather than just a generalized interuptingy group of people.
It would appear we have a lunch delivery; Mansplain Sandwich, anyone?
I like everything the Captain has said. Lots of it is good and usable.
If you are So Painfully Angry you need to look into why that is.
Your being So Painfully Angry is your problem; nobody else is responsible.
I can understand being annoyed but …
Being annoyed is understandable, as long as your emotions don’t go any stronger than that.
If your emotions go any stronger than annoyed, you need to look into why that is, etc (see above)
Being Painfully Angry is not allowed; not now, not ever.
Idiots are allowed to be idiots; you are not allowed to be angry (My apologies for the language; idiot is not a good word choice.)
If you are angry then something more is going on here
What’s wrong with you???
What’s wrong with you is that you are making yourself suffer for other people’s faults, ergo you are responsible.
If other people have faults and you suffer because of them, and you get anything more than annoyed, then that is your choice.
There is an option of not making yourself suffer for other people’s faults; if you do not choose this option you are responsible for any suffering that results.
If you ‘sense’ powerlessness you can take more control.
Powerlessness is a feeling, not a reality.
Powerlessness can be overcome by taking control.
Any powerless person (or child?) is in that position because they failed to take control.
Taking more control is your responsibility. If you do not choose to take more control you are responsible for any suffering that results (see above).
Why not find your ‘humourous eye’ and look through that instead of your actual eyes? (variant of, ‘don’t you have a sense of humour’)
Isn’t this funny?
Isn’t it funny that a guy is correcting you?
Isn’t it funny that a guy on his first day is correcting you?
I bet you are capable of condescending.
Why not condescend?
I like the idea of asking him for the source of the incorrect information.
Captain: “Before you start, ask how much detail do you need?”
YES I have started doing this a few months ago and the amazing thing is, it makes the questioner stop and think! And if they ask for a short answer and HAH come back later for the long answer, they are less likely to interrupt/contradict because they already *ahem* totally did not screw up at all, they’re just curious about more details, is all.
Another good question in this vein is, “How much time to do you have for an answer? Oh, is that all? Maybe come back later when you have more time. Oh, you need the answer right now? It’s going to take longer than the time you budgeted, and even longer if you interrupt.”
These are just facts. It is not at all rude to clarify expectations, although it can be a bit scary to change your habit of Instant Answers All The Time.
“Another good question in this vein is, ‘How much time to do you have for an answer? Oh, is that all? Maybe come back later when you have more time. Oh, you need the answer right now? It’s going to take longer than the time you budgeted, and even longer if you interrupt.'”
Repeating for emphasis 🙂
I’m a quiet, introverted person who can (and has) gone for weeks without speaking to anyone about anything. My current hostess is a talker, and more extroverted than I, and she gets lonely, she knows a lot of interesting things, and gets starved for chats. She has even gotten angry at me for being the same person I have always been in all the years we have been friends (i.e., quiet, reserved, prone to hole up in my room doing quiet things like reading or sleeping, alone), because she is lonely and apparently imagined that our social lives would be a lot busier if we were both under one roof, despite our time and energy levels remaining the same. 😦 Here’s the big issue, though: She, like LW’s coworkers, also interrupts and talks over people. Some days I have the energy for it, some days I don’t (for either depression or physical pain issues, or both, sometimes with a sprinkling of fatigue / perimenopause misery on top), and then I feel bad because she’s intelligent and awesome (and doing me a huge favor with regard to housing/shelter) and I DO enjoy her company and find her interesting. The interrupting just grinds me down, especially after a long day at work full of constant interrupting with a side of mansplaining, and because my mother also likes to interrupt me (usually while arguing with me about how I feel or think about something or otherwise denying my reality in some way). It’s tough. Right now I’m addressing it by making a conscious effort to be a little less solitary / quiet and to initiate socializing when I have the spoons to do so.
I don’t think extroverts / talkers realize how exhausting it can be to have to participate intellectually and physically in a conversation when you’re an exhausted, quiet introvert who has a sore back, was up with insomnia for the last three nights, got interrupted for ten hours while at work, and has been having a period non-stop for three weeks. Or how many spoons it takes if you are habitually kind of quiet by nature, even if you aren’t tired or depressed or in any kind of discomfort. I also have moderate crowd (middle ear) deafness, which means that more than a little ambient noise in an area or talking with someone who mumbles / talks softly / faces any direction other than mine when addressing me is pretty much a guarantee that whomever is talking to me is going to have to repeat what they said, maybe more than once if the ambient noise or mumbling isn’t adjusted.There seems to be no way to explain this where the more talkative person doesn’t feel like they are being criticized or called boring, when that’s not it at all. They aren’t being wrong, nor are they boring. They are just asking for more intense human interaction than someone else is able to provide at that moment, regardless of how much they would LIKE to provide it and would ENJOY providing it. Which just sucks for everyone concerned.
My usual response to being interrupted or talked over is to go mute and wait it out. This isn’t the ideal solution, as lack of response to someone who is interrupting out of emotional hunger for human contact just makes that hunger worse. Interrupting back or talking even louder over someone who interrupts/talks over you is not workable either, though, especially if they are just excited about something or wanting badly to share something. It doesn’t feel good to go mute OR to engage in volume button wars just to converse.
This is why I put my phone on mute 24/7 and rely on text messages most of the time. No problem with being unable to hear, no interrupting, no worries about lack of energy/spoons. It’s the best. Therefore, the “make the interrupters / mansplainers email questions to LW” suggestion proposed here strikes me as the best solution, but that’s because it would be the best one for someone like me. 🙂
I deal with this level of non-congruent energy by paying almost no attention to what my chattering son is saying ( love him, but I don’t really want to know what Goombas are doing in the latest YouTube he watched) but throwing in occasional ‘yes dears’ (‘oh, really?’; ‘you don’t say’; ‘and then what’?) while my mind is off running through the weekend schedule or what’s for dinner. I do make a point of giving him my real and undivided, non-task oriented attention for a minimum amount each day, but after I hit the minimum, it’s all about encouraging him to chat while I mentally rest.
I hear knitting is a good occupation for this.
“Over time, reset their expectations (and your expectations, which might be even harder) that it’s somehow “easier” if you just stop and cater to them immediately.”
I was a senior programmer in an organization for a number of years and I had a background in training, so I got the reputation there as the go-to for a lot of questions when people ran up against “why do we do this?” and “where would this thing be in this huge project?” and “how do we do this within our structure?” sort of questions. Like you, LW, I found my day being overtaken by people coming by with questions. And in a lot of those cases these were things people could have sussed out themselves with a little effort – either through research or just some elbow grease – and many times they were things I’d have to spend a minute looking at to determine what they meant or the right answer to their question.
I discovered that what the Captain is talking about cut out more than half of those interruptions. Educator Dan Meyer even had it as the tag line on his website: “Be less helpful.” Not only is it better for you, it’s better for them too. People better absorb/retain the things they work a little to figure out themselves. As it turned out it was a helpful thing to remember years later when I became a parent; if my infant and then toddler didn’t have to struggle a little to get what he needed then he didn’t learn to do it himself. And also as the Cap says above – man it can be HARD to let people flounder in front of you!
But in the workplace I found that just saying “I’m right in the middle of this, could you grab a coffee and come back in 10 minutes?” did the job most times. Faced with having to wait they’d go suss it out themselves. And it was a period of time that was short enough that nobody but the most entitled/obnoxious could argue with it.
[i]the hybrid of A Person Who Likes Explaining Stuff In Detail & TANGENT MAN, TANGENT MAN, DIGRESSES WHENEVER A TANGENT CAN[/i]
Captain, are you me? I will now have this song going through my head every time I catch myself at it. I got called out on one of my teaching practises for it – “It’s great that you know your stuff, and it’s great that you allow questions from the kids, but you went 20 minutes over schedule because you started talking about…I don’t even know what any more…” /TheHeadteacher
BUT, because kids do this back to me a lot, my stock phrase is “You just interrupted me in the middle of telling you how to do [it] in order to ask me how to do [it]. Was that sensible?” i.e. CALL THEM ON IT, in short and simple words.
At my old job, I had the misfortune to be the main web developer on a big, scary, everything-is-urgent-everyday with a project manager who was irritating in so, so many ways. He didn’t inspire confidence, he didn’t project confidence, he excelled at a sort of cheery content-free bluster that filled up time that could have been filled with actual work–even the clients didn’t want to be in a meeting with him unless the other project manager (belated added onto the project specifically in response to the this) would be there.
The thing more irritating than anything else that he would do to me was the third step of the following sequence:
1. He would email me questions about some aspect of the project: for instance, my progress on the current bug list.
2. I would email him back a thorough and accurate response.
3. If my response was longer than, say, one short paragraph, he wouldn’t bother reading it. He’d just come to my desk and say, “Hey, I saw your email, but I thought it would be easier if I just came up here so we could talk about it!”
Regardless of the time and effort I’d already put into thoughtfully answering his question.
Regardless of whatever I might be working on *now* at the moment he dropped in on me.
I wish, oh I wish, I’d had the confidence at the time to say to him, “Easier for whom?” or “No, it wouldn’t; please go read the email I took the time to write you rather than making me repeat it all verbally to you now?” or even a more placating “Hey, now’s not a good time” which I’d just happen to say every time he dropped by my desk without having read my email. I wish I’d even thought to go up the chain, talk to our respective department heads, and complained to them about how he was disrespecting my time/effort and stressing me out. They probably would have done something–either talked to him about it, or advised me how to deal with him next time he did it.
I could have gotten away with it. I’d been with the company about three years longer and I was entrenched in the project as its sole web developer. Everyone else in every department that had to deal with him found him irritating. I would certainly have not faced reprisals. But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to be “rude” (read: non-accommodating) to his face.
If I had it to do over again, I’d be just as rude as his behavior required.
Here’s to situation-appropriate rudeness!
Oh god, vortexae, I think my office just hired that man. Doesn’t inspire confidence? Check. Doesn’t project confidence? Check. Cheery content-free bluster? Check and double check, with a heaping side helping of Uses Big Words In A Context That Clearly Demonstrates He Doesn’t Understand Them and a double portion of Sends Emails That Are Basically Word Salad.
Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the Mansplainers I cannot change, the courage to change the Manterrupters I can, and the wisdom not to punch them all directly in the jibblie bits. Amen.
AMEN TO THE AMEN.
Oh yes, that guy. My old work wanted to develop a data management software package that would work for our specific type of work. The IT company working on the software didn’t understand the work we did and we didn’t understand how their software development worked, and this guy was the go-between project manager who didn’t really understand either.
He used to bombard me with constant emails, at a time where I was doing up to seven people’s work simultaneously due to long-term sickness and vacancies. These would be anything from “two quick questions” to “please supply a detailed list of all the things ever.” I’d immediately pick up his emails and start replying to them just to get him out of my face and while I was doing so, the phone would ring and it would be him saying “Did you get my email?”
Me: “Yes Richard, I’m replying to it now.”
Him: “Good, I just wanted to check.”
Me: “The email system works fine Richard, I wouldn’t worry about that. I’ll just hang up and send it to you…”
Him: “[interrupts and then verbally paraphrases *his entire email* over the phone, asking me the same questions that are in the email]”
Me: “[answers questions over phone]”
Him: “Good, I’m glad we’ve got that cleared up. If you could just email me that so I have it in writing…”
WHY DEAR GOD WHY BOTHER WITH THE PHONE CALL AT ALL I HATE PHONE CALLS I WILL NEVER GET THOSE FIVE MINUTES BACK. Also when I’m interrupted in the zone, it takes me ages to get back into whatever I was doing so it’s more time than that wasted, really.
Every day that I work from home, blissfully alone, is a day that sort of makes up for the “answers an email with a call/calls to ask you to email them” Old ManBrigade from last office job.
That’s funny – I also work from home now and feel exactly the same way!
“Jared comes to ask you a question and Jesse “Well Actually” jumps in like the big goddamn hero of work procedures? Harness his manthusiasm!”
These two sentences are beautiful and I want to marry them.
_Time Management for System Administrators_ might be useful; it’s written for people who need to do preventive work, get interrupted all the time, and aren’t at the top of their status hierarchies:
LW, I’m a careers adviser and one of the main tools of my trade is that you don’t give advice or information until you have really narrowed down exactly what advice or information the person you’re speaking to needs. I don’t know whether or not this will be helpful for you – if you find that the people you’re helping interrupt your long explanation, it might help you pinpoint exactly what it is they need to know before you start explaining. It can also help with mansplainers and self-important people, weirdly enough, because by asking questions you are controlling the conversation and it canhelp project your authority.
“Hey, can you help me?”
“What do you need help with?”
“I need to import this into here…”
“Do you use Excel a lot?”
“Yeah, most days…”
“What sort of stuff do you do on it?”
“Mostly just recording how many people we’ve seen and some or the budget stuff.”
“So what’s new about this?”
“I haven’t done an import from a database before..”
“OK, cool. So what have you tried already?”
“Well, I did this, and that, but that didn’t work…”
“When you say it didn’t work, did you get an error message, or..?”
“No, it brought something across, but it wasn’t what I wanted and it looked all messed up…”
“OK, cool. Can you show me what you did then?”
Etc. This can sometimes cut down the long explanations and get you straight to the specific bit they need. Plus, if you’re making them think, they might be more actively involved in the process of learning, and that can cut down on repeated requests.
If you’re doing a lot of training, and you consider it a worthwhile part of your job, then asking for some training on how to train more effectively and getting the recognition for it would be a really good idea!
This is one of those things where Aspergers works both for and against me.
How it works for me: All socialization patterns look artificial to me and all require I consciously learn rules that seem a bit off to me. So it has never occurred to me not to switch communication styles when talking to different people or in different situations. And I tend to adopt the mores of the group I’m talking to.
So, for example, when a professor repeatedly asked me what tactics might work for female engineering students who were continually not heard by their male peers in group work, I would invariably say, “Have they tried yelling?” I’d been in a lot of engineering discussions that involved shouting and the banging of fists on tables, and I would cheerily shout and bang fists on tables too if that was how the discussion was going.
How it works against me: Using the same speech and communication patterns as the menfolk makes the ones whose unconscious sexism is on the strong side really uncomfortable, and they’re rarely bright enough to realize the source of their discomfort is their own disordered thinking, not me.
One of my favorite examples was a message board that I used to participate in years ago. There was this extreme dichotomy between the speech patterns of women versus men on that board, especially when expressing disagreement. If said they thought X was true, the male posters were very comfortable saying, “Nah, I think it’s Y, ” and everyone seemed fine with that. But women wanting to say the exact same thing would come out with extreme panderspeak — “Oh, I’m sure you’re right. It makes sense that it is X. Let me tell you three reasons I can think of why it would make sense for it to be X… However, do you think it’s maybe possible that it’s Y? Because of Z? I couldn’t help wondering. But I’m sure I’m wrong and it’s not Y. I’m sure you’re right that it’s Y.”
I couldn’t do that latter version with a straight face to save my life, so I’d just go with the male speech patterns — “Nah, I think it’s Y.”
Many male posters loved that — they found roundaboutation confusing, so a woman’s perspective put so plainly was pure gold to them.
But many male posters found themselves deeply, profoundly uncomfortable. They’d challenge me — announcing that I was causing a problem, as proved by the fact that they were uncomfortable. I’d cheerily ask for specifics — I’d ask them to quote back the part of what I’d said that bothered them. They would. I’d then ask them to explain what they thought was wrong with it or what made them uncomfortable. They could never answer that part, because by the conventions of the board, I hadn’t said anything remotely out of line, for a man. In order to make their case, they’d have to admit their own bigotry was why they had a problem. Oddly enough, they never wanted to do this.
Several of them tried several times to do a group attack claiming that I needed to be dealt with because I “hated men”. I would of course immediately ask them to quote back to me anything I’d said that said or implied I hated men. They couldn’t because there was no such evidence. But their argument was that I made several men on the board uncomfortable, therefore I clearly hated men. My response to this was always something along the lines of:
“ROFL. Seriously? THAT’S your reasoning??? That you don’t like something that I have to say, therefore *I* must hate *you*??? And not just you, but anyone with the same genitalia as you? ROFL.”
This made them really pissy, amusingly enough. They could never come up with a comeback to that.
One tried. He would obsessively read everything I posted, and then continually opine in a super-sensitive-take-care-of-me-I’m-a-sensitive-man-having-manfeelings way that he didn’t know why, but I just made him uncomfortable. He clearly expected me to jump in and talk about this with him and take care of fixing whatever was causing him to have FEELINGSOMGIHAVEFEELINGSHELPME. I’d never respond, because the board had an ignore feature that would have made it really easy for him to never see what I wrote.
He’s the one who got repeated rounds of my ROFL reply above. He HATED that, apparently, so he started a whining campaign that no one should ever be allowed to laugh at something said in earnest (laughing at bullies was very much a part of the culture of the board).
I have seen this dynamic SO MANY TIMES:
Man: Women just can’t cope with robust debate! I don’t see why we should change the way we communicate just because women get their feelings hurt when there’s a bit of snark or people disagreeing!
Woman: *gets a tiny bit frustrated and snarks*
Man: OMG if you can’t even be CIVIL I really don’t see why I should continue this conversation! No, that’s it, I’M LEAVING.
It’s such a massive double-standard. Framed as “you must adopt the conversational conventions with which I am comfortable”, but secretly “women must defer to me and show respect at all times”.
I’ve run into it repeatedly in personal relationships too. You see, if a male friend or romantic partner and I use the same speech patterns and tones of voice to communicate disagreement, this constitutes me beating them up with my giant brain. It’s actual violence, they assure me, with manly quavers in their voices. Terrible, terrible violence. The only way for us to disagree that is not me committing a terrible, terrible act of violence against their trembling male selves is if they can be brusque to the point of rudeness in speaking to me, but I must always use gentle tones and extreme panderspeak when speaking to them. Otherwise their souls bleed.
Oddly, “Well has it bled to death already, because I’m not having this crap,” is not considered a sufficiently caring and healing response.
Oh, sympathies, LW. Interrupting is the WORST. There was one dude in school who would ask me a question, and then DISENGAGE and talk to someone else while I was answering him. The first time it was irritating, the third time it nearly brought me to tears. It’s been years and I still won’t have anything to do with him.
I notice someone upthread is telling LW that their feelings are the problem. No, they’re not.
My workplace now has an actual term for what the LW is – a Tower Of Knowledge. That is, someone who for whatever reason knows more about a chunk of/all of the work the team does than anyone else and who therefore gets asked a lot of questions, even though it is often not their job to deal with training.
So we had a problem solving session about this exact issue.
One part of it was exactly as the Capt said – our Tower jotted down or saved all queries he received for a couple of weeks, and set two explicit slots a week, during which he would be available to answer questions. If you had a question outside that time, email, and he’d address it if he had time, or at his next Tower session.
Then he listed off the broad areas into which the questions fell, and other team members volunteered to answer questions on the various topics, so that if someone had a query, they knew who *else* could answer that question, apart from M.
The final part was to improve the documentation and to pass on semiregular tips in team meetings/set up demos of problem processes for those who wanted to attend.
I think we need to start explaining truthfully what’s going on with us.
There’s a nice way to say that — along the lines of “I’m sure you didn’t mean to interrupt me, but that’s something we all need to work on in our jobs because interrupting happens along power and gender lines. For example, men interrupt women 4 times as often as women interrupt men. I deal with it a lot because I’m soft-spoken and I have a lot of institutional knowledge so I end up doing a lot of training. In fact, it happens so often that it’s really demoralizing. It feels disrespectful.” Share some of your examples.
My neighbor teaches kids about nutrition. She teaches poor kids what rich people already know: there are food deserts in cities, and access to affordable, nutritious food is much more difficult for poor people. In other words, she’s straight with them about what the bigger picture is. Some things are systemic, and we need to start communicating about those things.
If you come from the perspective that it’s an unintentional habit that we’ve all been taught and we can all break, idk no matter how they react you’ll know you’ve been honest, direct, and respectful in your communication.
A useful trick I’ve learned as a mom is the power of the physical gesture. When I get interupted I will hold up my hand in that universal “stop” motion and continue talking.
It feels rude. It might be rude. But so’s interupting. If necessary, I’ll also interject, “you click on this and please don’t interupt me i’m still speaking and move your mouse to the right…” The hand up is more effective than verbal alone.
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