How to succeed when facing a ‘manterrupter’

The Cohort is Poynter's bi-monthly newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media.

Throughout last week’s presidential debate, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton several times (by some accounts, more than 50 interruptions in a 90-minute debate). And the big takeaway of Tuesday’s vice presidential debate was how much both candidates spoke over each other and ignored moderator Elaine Quijano’s pleas. Countless women, especially working women, could relate.

We’ve all been in meetings and discussions where our contributions were talked over, drowned out, appropriated without credit or outright disregarded. But what’s the best way to respond?

So, first: ‘Manterrupting’ sucks. I hear you. It’s also something that women will continue to face in our careers, at least amid more hard-fought years of workplace progress. Calling out the problem isn’t a standalone solution.

And while it’s important to point out instances of subtle sexism, doing so doesn’t always benefit us in the short term. In fact, standing up to a colleague and noting that you were interrupted mid-sentence could hurt your relationship with said colleague and other coworkers who might feel uncomfortable by the exchange.

Clinton didn’t get angry at Trump’s interruptions, and she didn't call them out. Instead, she maintained her composure and continued on. Like many women watching the debate, I found myself thinking: Lord, grant me the strength to one day face interruptions with the same incredible calm.

Let’s take some lessons from the debate stage and apply them to the boardroom:

Come prepared. There are few downsides to arriving to a meeting fully prepared with information and points you want to discuss in hand. By jotting notes down ahead of time, you’ll give yourself an opportunity to visualize the conversation and its outcomes.

Prepare for interruptions, too. For now at least, manterrupting happens. Take a cue from Clinton’s book, and don’t get flustered nor interrupt back. Make the most of the time you have by addressing the key points you want to make, asking smart questions and, if you don’t get to something, following up with an email that highlights the additional items you hoped to cover.

Step into the moderator’s shoes. Male Cohort readers, this one’s for you: If you spot someone interrupting, call it out. And ladies, you can practice amplification and credit other women whose ideas might be at risk of being drowned out.

Harness that inner strength to smile and keep moving. Whether it’s through meditation or a power pose, figure out what helps you to stay calm and let the manterrupters look bad on their own. People will take notice.


Things worth reading
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Advice for Living is so so good! It’s true that diverse teams can seem uncomfortable at times; according to The Harvard Business Review, that’s why they perform better. I’ll be honest: I haven’t had time yet to sit down and properly devour the Wall Street Journal’s in-depth Women in the Workplace special, but that’s part of my exciting weekend plans. I’ll probably read it with a glass of wine to really spice things up.

Meet Christina
Covering politics this year is no easy task. Christina Bellantoni, assistant managing editor for politics at the Los Angeles Times, not only excels at it — she also makes it look fun. A month after joining the Times in August 2015, she helped launch a new politics vertical, including podcasts, events and “a conversational newsletter that (hopefully) helps frame the day's political happenings.”

“So many people find their jobs to be a grind,” said Bellantoni, 37. “I still love covering politics and I am grateful for that every day.” She answered the following questions over email.

How long have you been in journalism? What drew you to politics?

My first official job was as a researcher at the San Jose Business Journal in 1998. I was a sophomore at UC Berkeley and I learned quickly that if you're willing to work hard, you can get noticed and rewarded in a newsroom. I was the squeaky wheel until the editors finally gave me a writing assignment. The 2000 presidential race and cliffhanger result drew me to politics. I remember distinctly watching all those reporters waiting for Al Gore to come out and thinking, That's it! That's where I want to be!

What was the toughest part of launching a new politics vertical at the Times?

Joining such a large legacy newspaper was a huge adjustment. I'd been running my own paper, with 28 employees, and suddenly I was in this enormous organization with many, many layers and hoops to jump through before decisions can be finalized. I'd always worked in small, underdog newsrooms. But the size also was great — you have so many resources at your disposal and are able to really pursue great journalism.

What was the most rewarding?

I had been there less than four months when the San Bernardino terrorist attacks happened, and watching our newsroom come together to cover this awful news event was so inspiring, rewarding and humbling. We all worked for several weeks with no time off, and it was right after we lost some staff in a buyout, and I couldn't have been prouder of the results. The newsroom was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for that effort, which was even more satisfying because it was the first truly digital effort The Times' had been recognized for, and also because each and every member of the staff had touched the story in some way.

How does this presidential election compare with past elections you've covered?

From a news perspective and for the sake of sensationalism, it's been great, but it's not a very satisfying race to cover. I have many times this cycle been grateful I'm not out on the campaign trail anymore because it is increasingly difficult for reporters to distinguish themselves in this 24/7 media landscape and given the lack of access and new information to uncover about these candidates. Given they each don't interact very much with the media, it also is frustrating because there is little ability to get important questions to the candidates.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

When I was just out of college, I cornered Sam Donaldson at an event and asked him for one piece of advice on what it would take for me to be a successful journalist like him. He didn't hesitate and ticked off his fingers with his three points: "Get a good, liberal arts education. Start small and get to know absolutely everything about where you are or what you're covering. Work twice as hard as everyone else." I really took it to heart and was lucky enough to remind him of this advice one day when I bumped into him in an NBC green room in DC. "Looks like you've done pretty well for yourself," he told me. I was pretty jazzed. Advice I always give to others is to make sure you tell mentors and people senior to you what you're interested in. People inherently want to help, and if you speak up and they know you want to advance or have a particular passion, they will think of you first.

The burnout struggle is real, especially in journalism. How do you avoid it?

It gets back to being lucky I love what I do, but also in really surrounding myself with supportive people. Your loved ones must be understanding that there will be late nights/weeks/holidays/etc. when you'll be dealing with that next San Bernardino, or managing two straight weeks of convention coverage until the wee hours. I also try to make it fun and remind myself that I'm so fortunate to have access to the most influential people in this country and that I shouldn't take that for granted. And, you know, vacation when I can.

Thanks to the wonderful Shira Center for recommending Bellantoni as a woman to feature.

Let’s keep building The Cohort. Pass this newsletter on to coworkers and friends!

The Cohort is part of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. Props to Kristen Hare, who handles interruptions with grace, for her newsletter edits and insight.

  • Profile picture for user katiehawk

    Katie Hawkins-Gaar

    Katie Hawkins-Gaar is the organizer of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. She was previously Poynter’s digital innovation faculty member, and taught journalists how to make the most of social media, understand audience engagement, rethink workflows and foster creativity.


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