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I am having a problem with one of my coworkers that seems to be getting worse. We are both Senior Engineers of equal position on the same team, working for a large multinational Engineering company.

My colleague has a reputation for being somewhat brash and has a tendency to dominate conversations. He has a habit, especially if we are on a conference call together, of cutting me off when I am speaking. Frequently, I will start speaking and he has a tendency to just start talking over me and completely ignore what I am saying.

Needless to say, I find this behavior extremely rude and disrespectful. It is getting to the point where, when he does it, I get very triggered and have started reacting negatively, lashing out verbally. For example, he did it on a call earlier this morning; I said several times, patiently, "excuse me, I am talking. Can you please wait until I am finished?", yet he completely ignored me and continued to talk. I lost my temper, gave him a couple of choice words and promptly dropped off the call.

I am not prepared to tolerate him showing me such blatant disrespect, when we are both Engineers of the same level and especially when we are on a call with other people. I am afraid that if it keeps happening, my outbursts will get worse and I will run the risk of gaining a reputation myself of being 'unstable' or 'temperamental'. This doesn't happen with anyone else in our business, except him.

The situation may be party caused or exacerbated by the fact that I have a minor stutter when I talk and don't have the same level of spoken confidence that he does. So, it seems he feels he can easily 'knock me aside' in a discussion, whenever he feels like it. Again, I am not prepared to tolerate this. I am also a respectful and dignified person myself, and I will not talk over someone else or fight just to be heard.

So, my question is: what is the best thing to do in this situation? Has anyone else experienced anything similar? I am guessing that speaking to my Manager is probably going to be one of the first suggestions. I have done that and he is aware of the problem, but I'm not sure if he knows what he can do to help. I have made it clear that I will not tolerate his behavior and if I feel triggered then I will drop off calls, as necessary.

I would be very grateful for any advice.

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    When he starts to talk over you, do you simply stop talking? – sf02 Nov 13 at 16:34
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    This issue may be better suited to interpersonal.stackexchange.com – Peter M Nov 13 at 16:46
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    I see you have some experience on Workplace, so this shouldn't come as a shock. This site (like most stack exchange sites) is focused on addressing specific questions. What should I do? is very broad. Just off the top of my head, you could write a formal complaint and present it to management. You could email HR. You could quit. You could talk to the guy again. An answer exploring all those options could easily be several pages long. So you need to narrow down what you want advice with. The negative votes are a big hint that your post is not a good fit as it stands. – AndreiROM Nov 13 at 16:51
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    @AndreiROM yes, I have been a WP user for some time and I must say I'm rather baffled by your reply. "How can I resolve [insert difficult workplace issue]?" seems to be a commonly-accepted form of question on here, in my experience. – Time4Tea Nov 13 at 16:53
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    Seems like a reasonable question to me, not uncommon to have arrogant colleagues who won't listen to reason, and probably several valid strategies to mitigate against them. – Kilisi Nov 13 at 17:12
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I get very triggered and have started reacting negatively, lashing out verbally.

Don't let it bug you in this way. You will both come across as unprofessional.

I see plenty of people like this in meetings, but in meetings there is usually someone in control who will put a stop to their nonsense.

My advice would just be to decline doing calls with the chap. If taken to task over it (which you probably will be at some point) just say he is too disrespectful. And move forwards from that.

Something along the lines of "He communicates unprofessionally on the calls and it's a bad look to the customer/client/colleague, that I'd rather not get involved with. He interrupts and is aggressive. I have mentioned it to him but there hasn't been any change, so it's better if he takes those calls himself."

Don't make it that it's your problem, it isn't, it's about the company/department image. It makes the company or section look like bickering schoolgirls rather than a professional smooth running team.

It's not enough that I'd complain to HR yet. But I'm pretty thick skinned, your mileage may vary. That or your manager is the other options. Either way approach it from the same angle that it makes the team look bad.

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    Thanks for your answer, Kilisi, this is helpful advice. One question though: at what point would you deem it worth raising to HR? – Time4Tea Nov 13 at 17:39
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    never... I let this sort of crap come to me when I'm fully prepared to deal with it. Not react emotionally. Don't imagine people haven't noticed the behaviour already. Every trip to HR is permanently noted, my preference is that I never see them at a workplace. I make the manager deal with such issues, let them earn their pay ;) – Kilisi Nov 13 at 18:24
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What I have done in similar situations is calmly wait until the interruptor finishes interrupting, then say "What I started to say was..." and finish what I wanted to say. It's a reasonably subtle way of calling out that I was rudely interrupted, while remaining professional and dignified. Most people will pick up on it, especially if you do it often. I've found that it only takes a few times before whomever is running the meeting gets more proactive and puts a stop to the interruptions.

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    What if he interrupts again while you're doing that? – Kilisi Nov 13 at 18:36
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    Unfortunately, I have tried the patient approach and it hasn't worked. As Kilisi suggests, he just does it again, or he infers that the 'floor is his' and keeps talking and doesn't give any opportunity to get a word in. Or, by the time he's done, the conversation (monologue?) has moved on to the stage where my input is no longer relevant. His behavior is persistent. – Time4Tea Nov 13 at 18:47
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    @Time4Tea Then your best option is to insist that your manager actually manage. That means imposing order, letting people speak, and shutting down problem interruptions. If your manager won't do that, then I would not bother calling in. Send an email instead. – Mohair Nov 13 at 22:13
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Your colleague probably doesn't know he's being rude and disrespectful. Try not to assume malice where ignorance or incompetence explains the situation.

It's perfectly professional of you to interrupt him back saying, "excuse me, please let me finish. As I was saying ...." then just keep talking over him. You'll have to practice this a bit to make it effective. Politeness ... "excuse me" and "please" ... are important here.

And, you can intervene more deliberately in his behavior. Ask him for some time, take him aside in private, and say "I have something to say to you. Please listen until I have finished saying it. When you interrupted me yesterday during our meeting you irritated me. You gave me the impression you don't care what I have to say, and you probably deprived yourself and our co-workers of valuable information I had carefully prepared for the meeting. In future please try to wait until I have finished speaking."

The formula:

  • Describe the unwanted behavior
  • Explain its effect on you
  • Explain its probable effect on your business, without explicitly speaking for anybody besides yourself.
  • Ask for a change.

And, once you have said this, don't argue. He probably won't smack his forehead and say, "doh! you're right!" It will take him a while to absorb this.

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    When I interrupt someone repeatedly, I usually know that I'm doing it. And if I'm not apologizing for it, it's usually because I think I had a very good reason for interrupting. It's usually because the other person is super longwinded, goes off on tangents, or repeats himself constantly. That's why I interrupt. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 14 at 0:10
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    " Try not to assume malice where ignorance or incompetence explains the situation." - but be aware that actually malicious people do exist... – AakashM Nov 14 at 9:20
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Playing the devil's advocate

When I interrupt someone repeatedly, I usually know that I'm doing it. And if I'm not apologizing for it, it's usually because I think I had a very good reason for interrupting. It's usually because the other person is super longwinded, goes off on tangents, or repeats himself constantly. That's why I interrupt.

No one speaking on your behalf?

That being said, if someone keeps on interrupting you constantly, for no good reason to begin with, someone in your group should speak up on your behalf. This is especially true if there is a manager or a meeting leader, it's technically their job to coordinate the participants.

"Hey Joe, why don't you let Fred finish speaking before you go."

And the fact that no one has done so on your behalf seems weird to me. This tells me that you may be longwinded, or going off on a tangent, when you were interrupted. Am I right? Is there a possibility this is what happened in this case?

Tentative solution

It may be helpful for you to keep a checklist of what you want to say and practice speaking as succinctly as possible during such meetings/teleconference calls.

Speaking succinctly will have two effects. It won't give the other guy as many openings to interrupt you. And at the same time, it will make others want to be in conference calls with you (instead of the other guy), especially if you implement Kilisi's excellent advice and refuse to be on conference calls with that other guy anymore.

None of the above

My colleague tends to cut me off 5-10 seconds after I start speaking. I think part of what irritates me is that he seems to expect me to listen to him blabber for 5 minutes, but he won't show me the dignity of letting me speak for 30 seconds.

In which case, demand that you no longer be included on calls with him (as Kilisi suggested) or that he be muted or kicked off the call the next time he interrupts you on a call (should he not listen to the moderator).

There are several phone teleconference packages that allow the teleconference host to mute/kick off the calls of participants (some of them free).

In any case, the implementation details shouldn't matter to you. You should demand that teleconference calls be monitored and moderated by your manager (otherwise, you won't participate in them with him anymore). It's ultimately the job of your manager to figure out how to do that.

  • Thanks for your answer; however, I am not being long-winded or tangential. I'm not that sort of person at all - I tend to be very to the point and sparing with my words. My colleague tends to cut me off 5-10 seconds after I start speaking. I think part of what irritates me is that he seems to expect me to listen to him blabber for 5 minutes, but he won't show me the dignity of letting me speak for 30 seconds. – Time4Tea Nov 14 at 12:41
  • This is an important answer because it explains what the interrupter thinks is happening. He may be wrong, but in his mind, what he has to say is far more important and interesting that what anyone else was saying. He thinks you're either wrong ("going off at a tangent") or making the point poorly ("being longwinded" "repeats himself constantly"). He's more likely to listen if you can show him some important points were missed because he didn't let you speak. – Robin Bennett Nov 14 at 14:56
  • @Time4Tea, I've updated my answer with your comment in mind. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 14 at 21:01
  • Thanks, I like your revised answer, as well as the suggestion that I refuse to attend these calls unless the person in charge of them imposes a reasonable level of order and discipline. – Time4Tea Nov 14 at 21:38

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