There’s been a flurry of news stories about men interrupting women. It happens in Senate hearings, board meetings, and in everyday conversations, as well. It certain happens in my domain, negotiation.

Talking over others isn’t a one-way street, of course. Women sometimes interrupt men, though research shows that men butt in far more frequently. That may be due to mere thoughtlessness, but it also can be meant to dominate the interaction. Whatever the speaker’s motivation, for the person who’s being stepped on, the challenge is how to respond effectively.

The best advice I’ve ever seen is in a recent post by Rose Eveleth. Her insights come from an unlikely source: listening to talk radio.

For me, two points stand out. First, Eleveth says that when dealing with a chronic over-talker, politeness doesn’t work. The speaker won’t have a flash of social awareness and shut up. “You will wait forever for them to notice that they are doing this,” she says. “You will die or fall asleep or the universe will end in a white-hot explosion before they will stop.” So don’t wait for a pause. There won’t be any.

Instead, Eveleth says, “Start your sentence just before your partner has ended theirs.” The key words in her advice are just before. Jumping in is a matter of timing, getting your hands on the steering wheel just as the other person is wrapping up a particular thought. You have to cut him off before he gets started on something else.

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She figured this out by listening to political rants and sports babble on the radio. (A high price to pay for that wisdom, she admits.) Less painfully, you can get a feel for what she’s learned just by monitoring conversations at parties and business meetings. Put yourself in the shoes of a person who’s being talked over. See if you can anticipate the moments where she could jump back into the exchange.

Another practical tip she offers is the Question Sneak Attack. It’s fighting fire with fire, as the technique is actually an interruption in disguise. She advises, “While your monologuer is talking, say over them ‘Jim (or whatever their name is), can I ask you something?’”

People liked to be asked things, as it seems to show interest and respect. Hearing the request, they will stop in expectation that they will be invited to prolong their lecture. The sneaky part of the tactic, Eveleth says, is that instead of asking a question, just flat out make your point. You could even begin by saying, “The way I see it . . .” or “Where I think you’re wrong . . .” And there you are, back in the driver’s seat where you belong.

Nowhere in her post does Eveleth mention calling out the interrupter or saying something like “can I get a word in edgewise here?” That seems correct for two reasons. First, such a statement is an accusation of sorts, one that’s likely to provoke a hostile or defensive response. As frustrated and angry you may be, the odds of winning an apology are slim. Second, it takes you off topic. You’re criticizing the person’s behavior rather than making your point.

Eveleth acknowledges that even with her more nuanced moves, there still can be a double standard. As a male, I can be an assertive and make wise cracks, without paying much of a penalty. That’s not as true for women in my family. Eveleth says that she’s “been called rude, brash, prickly, harsh, abrasive, and the whole rest of the words that are synonyms for ‘assertive woman.’” But she does get to speak. And she encourages others to do the same.

One final point. Sometimes we’re neither the interrupter nor the person being squashed. Instead, we’re simply a bystander. If you’re in a meeting at work and a colleague is taking all the air time, interrupting to bring others into the conversation can be a positive contribution.  

Saying something like, “Tyler. I think we’ve got the gist of it, but I’m curious if there are other perspectives. Specifically, Alicia, what do you think?”

Tyler in that case would have a hard time arguing that others shouldn’t be heard. And your intervention won’t seem self-serving. (Of course, if you’ve done your homework, you may have dropped Alicia’s name, because you know that she’ll be an excellent advocate for the position that you support.)

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

Professor Mike Wheeler

About the Author

Mike Wheeler is a Professor of Management Practice, Emeritus at HBS and teaches the HBX Negotiation Mastery course. Mike’s current research focuses on negotiation dynamics, dispute resolution, ethics, and distance learning. In July 2015 he was named Editor Emeritus of the Negotiation Journal, having been its Editor the prior twenty years. He also co-directs the Negotiation Pedagogy initiative at the inter-university Program on Negotiation. He is the author or co-author of eleven books, and his self-assessment app—Negotiation360—was released early in 2015.