“Excuse me, I’m speaking” became buzzworthy after the 2021 Vice Presidential debate. These words are how current Vice President Kamala Harris reclaimed her voice, re-centered the attention, and took back the microphone during a high-stakes debate. And these words will go down in history.
You’ll notice when watching the brief recap here that during interruption No. 3, Vice President Harris asserts herself with a big, beautiful smile while at the same time completely shutting down her opponent. This tactic was executed flawlessly, and you can do the same when this happens to you. Follow these three simple steps:
1. Start with a smile.
A big, wide and genuine smile is your best offense. A smile instantly disarms people and situations. You’re viewed as friendly, upbeat and nonconfrontational. Vice President Harris was well coached here and the approach served her well. You can substitute your own words, such as “one moment,” “just a second” or another favorite term. The words are not as important here as the action. Stand firm. Polite, but firm.
2. Do not, under any circumstances, take it personally.
Research shows that most people don’t even realize they’re interrupting and, in many cases, they can’t help themselves. They’re either excited or agitated, and sometimes even in agreement. They want to be heard. They may need to make a point. They may want to sound smart. They might need to prove something to themselves or to others in the room. Maybe they were just raised this way. Notice anything here? Their behavior is about THEM. Not you. If you take it personally, you make the situation about you and shift the focus to how you’re behaving rather than what you’re saying.
3. Finally, you can politely pause.
Once. I’ll be honest here, this is my least favorite tactic even though I use it frequently myself. Here’s what it looks like. If I have the floor and someone keeps talking over me, I politely pause and let them go on. Sometimes I will close my mouth and take a step back. I’ll often wait a few extra moments after they’re done speaking. The silence is unsettling for everyone and this awkwardness ensures that the offender won’t do it again. If for some reason you want to make it really awkward for the interrupter, you can take this a bit further by sitting down if you were standing. Regardless of how you pause, the people in the room will notice what’s happening. They will in many cases ask you to “go on” or “keep going” and in essence take the floor back for you. The first time this happens you can just politely let the person speak. No harm here. If it happens again? Refer to tips one and two above!
The underlying theme in all three of these tactics is to take the high road. Be polite but firm, realize that the offending behavior isn’t about you and, above all else, bring the focus back to you with a smile.
A version of this article was originally published by Women in Retail Leadership Circle’s sister brand, Women Leading Travel & Hospitality.