Let me preface my findings by saying that I come from a large, loud family where everyone interrupts each other. The only way to get a word in at my grandmother’s dinner table was to jump in before someone else completed their sentence- truly. Needless to say, I have a high tolerance for this sort of thing. Also, my experiment was conducted completely in social settings.
Truthfully, I expected I would see men interrupting women, but I also expected I would see women interrupting men. I didn’t think I would see it happening at a ratio of 2:1.
Let me tell you. Focusing on people interrupting each other was incredibly unpleasant. I don’t think I could have done this for longer than a month. People interrupt each other a LOT.
As I began observing conversations, I quickly realized the frequency of interrupting wasn’t the issue- but rather what happened after the interruption. I witnessed the same thing happen over and over again:
A woman began to tell a story. A man interrupted her, and proceeded to finish the story for her. Sometimes he would say she was telling it wrong, giving an excuse for the interruption. Sometimes he would just pretend she hadn’t even started the story; interrupting her and then going back to the beginning as if she had never spoken. Sometimes he would interrupt and change the topic completely, as if the story had no value. Here’s what troubled me. None of the women who were interrupted objected. They did not say one word. They sat back and gave up the floor to the man who then self-importantly took over the conversation.
Conversely, on several occasions I watched a woman interrupt a man in mid-story. She would say “no that’s not what happened” or “you are telling it wrong.” In all instances, he refused to be derailed by the interruption. He would say something like “I am the one telling the story. Now let me finish it” or “Shhhhh. Be quiet. I’m talking.” Not one time did a man give up the floor when he was interrupted. He persisted and finished whatever he was talking about.
There were no exceptions to these distinct patterns in a month of observing. I even noticed that I did it myself. I was casually talking to a friend, and a guy loudly interrupted me with something really off topic. Rather than exert the energy to redirect the conversation, I sat back, shut up, and let him go with it.
I wasn’t particularly bothered by it at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I should have been. I allowed an interruption to end a great conversation. So why are women ok with being interrupted and subsequently silenced? Maybe it’s as simple as we don’t really care about telling the story in the first place. More likely, we either don’t realize that it is happening because we are conditioned by habit to allow it, or we feel powerless to stop it.
Re-asserting ourselves when someone interrupts basically requires that we interrupt the interrupter. Not something we are naturally comfortable with. Still, the alternative sucks. We let ourselves get interrupted and thereby rendered ineffective in that moment.
This may not be an issue for everyone, and I get that. But if it bugs you like it bugs me, here are some ways to break the pattern. When you are interrupted, say “please don't interrupt me” or “Hey, I’m talking” and continue talking. If you give up the minute someone interrupts you, I suspect it will continue to happen. If after you have asked nicely, someone continues to interrupt you, feel free to say, “Don’t interrupt. It’s rude.” I’ve tried it. It works.
If someone repeats what you said as if you never said it, speak up and say, “I said that.” Make your voice be heard. It matters. Don't assume that someone knows more than you, can tell it better than you, or is more qualified to speak just because they butt in and try to take over. All that really means is that they are rude or unaware, or both. Trust yourself and your message, and say it sister!
Are women 50% less likely to finish our sentences? Maybe, but this can easily change with a little awareness and a lot of grit.
And the reality about interruptions? They are going to happen. The key is learning how to handle them.
 Women are routinely interrupted by male colleagues in professional settings, and this social experiment did not observe or test the frequency of that. That topic is not addressed here.
 I did not use instances of women interrupting women, or men interrupting men for purposes of this study, although that happens all the time too.