QUESTION

  Photo by Adrien Broom

Photo by Adrien Broom

Dear Kasia,

I have a soft voice and people often talk over me. 

It's driving me crazy! 

How can I put a stop to it?

Sincerely,

Shouting Into The Void


ANSWER

Dear Shouting Into the Void,

When somebody talks over you, they could be doing any number of things: they could be mansplaining. They could be telling you things you already know. They could be doing a runaway political monologue from a political party that you don't want to hear anything about. 

No matter what the reason, if someone is speaking over you, it's likely that they're actually not seeing you. They're not clocking your reactions, they're not noticing what you're picking up and what you're not. Usually when somebody's talking over somebody else, they can feel everyone's attention is on them, but they're not really feeling themselves.

When confronted with a situation like this, most of us will be tempted to physically get closer to the person speaking, to lean in as a way to try to get their attention.

Though it may feel counterintuitive, a more effective move is actually to back away. If you're standing, take two steps away from the person speaking. If nothing changes, take another step away. See how far you can move back before they start to notice. If you're in a chair, you can do a smaller version of this, even if you just stand up.

Once you've backed away physically, see if you can find a window–even just a moment–to insert yourself vocally. Ask the person speaking "Do you have any questions for me?" That puts them on the spot and brings their awareness back to the fact that they're speaking to someone.

If you want to deliver a heavier blow, you can ask a different kind of question. "Do you realize how long you've been speaking without even looking at me? Do you like to hear yourself talk?" "What got you so interested in this topic that you can just talk, and talk, and talk, without even checking on the people that are listening?" Obviously, these are more confrontational questions.

If you want to go with something less confrontational, "do you have any questions for me?" can be a very effective reminder that they're in conversation with another person.

I hope that helps.

Reading you loud and clear,

Kasia