If you’re a woman who talks, you’ve been talked over.
Run over in meetings, primarily by men, whose culture perpetuates mutual interruption as a form of nonverbal communication. Ignored, only to have your comment repeated moments later by someone else, to immediate response and recognition.
Tuesday, the whole country was treated to this scenario in full glaring color, live from the White House on national television. Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives and arguably the most powerful woman in the country, had to fight Male-Pattern Balderdash.
With the weariness of the parents of an un-toilet-trained 4-year-old, we, as a nation, expect this from President Donald Trump.
But where were Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.? They were in the room, and they are each, in their own way, champions of women. Pence styles himself as a throwback to the chivalrous, mythical past. As a progressive, Schumer presumably considers himself a standard-bearer for gender equality.
Each had an opportunity to say, “Let Ms. Pelosi finish,” or “Excuse me, Ms. Pelosi needs to complete her thought.”
Neither stepped in.
But that’s all it takes to talk back at talking over. One person sticking up for another. One person unwilling to let a colleague be run over by someone who’s louder, more determined, who’s relentlessly, recklessly rude.
Ten years ago, I had my own Pelosi moment.
In the midst of the real estate market meltdown of 2008, I was the real estate editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Local brokers of property and loans were upset as their livelihoods imploded. They demanded a meeting with the paper’s editors, as though our coverage had precipitated the crisis, or could stop it.
Of the 19 people seated in that circle of misery were only two women: me and an executive with a local real estate brokerage.
The agents and brokers took turns hammering our coverage. The two editors accompanying me tried to explain the role of factual reporting even in a period of economic distress. The men of the industry were not having it.
At some point, I spoke up. I don’t recall exactly what I said, only that I tried to make a neutral comment about the type of coverage that would add nuance to our ongoing coverage of the meltdown.
Nobody acknowledged what I said. Not the industry guys and not my two bosses.
A minute later, one of the industry guys pounded the table and repeated what I’d just said, word for word, as his own insight. This was immediately cheered. My bosses perked up. A point of agreement, at last!
“No,” said the only other woman in the room. “No. Joanne just said that. If you agree, give her the credit.”
They all looked at me as though I’d just arrived. Until she backed me up, I was invisible.
That’s when I got it. Thanks to her example, I now advocate for others who are anonymized in real time, both women and men. It would have been a moment of national relief and respect had Pence, Schumer or both done the same for Pelosi.
It’s not hard. You can do it too. Stop the conversation and redirect the credit to whom it’s due. That’s all it takes to stop talking over from taking over.
Joanne Cleaver is a communication consultant who lives near Traverse City, Mich. She wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.