Confession: I am a serial interrupter.
If I don’t like what you are saying, I might start start talking over you while hoping my rudeness makes you stop. If I am in a hurry, and you are taking too long to form a thought, I will cut you off just to get on with my life. If you are saying something vague to a third-party, I might cut you off to add my clarification. And if you are saying something illogical, off topic, or in any way unpleasant, I might start talking over you just because I prefer the sound of my own voice.
If you call me on my cell phone, I might let it roll over to voice mail because cell phone delays don’t let me interrupt as much as I’d like. No way I am going to listen to complete sentences just because I have a phone in my hand. I will look for your text later. (True story. I avoid the phone largely because it has no interrupt feature.)
Now add my rude interruptions to my firm belief that whatever I say is more useful than whatever other people are saying and you can see why people might not want to attend a meeting with me. I’m that guy.
But here is the interesting part: I am not always that guy. A lot has to do with my testosterone levels at the moment. If I’m jacked up on testosterone, don’t expect me to even hear what other people say. It is all about me at that moment. But if my testosterone is low, feel free to kick me. I will just run away and feel bad.
Can a man actually tell when his testosterone is high? I think so, but perhaps one of you can add some clarity in the comments.
About a decade ago I went to my doctor to ask about testosterone supplements. I was over forty and I was showing all the signs of decreased testosterone. I no longer had the vigor, the confidence, or the muscle-building capabilities of youth and I wanted it back. My doctor talked me out of getting testosterone supplements because my condition was not unhealthy and the shots could have some nasty side-effects.
So instead I embarked on a more natural path to regain my testosterone levels, or at least keep them as high as my age allows. I fixed my diet and my exercise systems and dropped more than twenty pounds over a decade, slowly, and without any real effort. As I accumulated knowledge about fitness and diet, I no longer needed much willpower. I just made smarter choices.
As my fitness continued to improve, I could feel my sense of well-being, confidence, and personal power increasing to levels I had not seen since my youth. Eventually I started adding muscle like a twenty-something. (I don’t take any illegal meds or sports supplements beyond protein powder for my shakes.)
The end result is that at age 58 (almost) I have the body of a young man with raging testosterone. And as science would predict, my life has evolved to match that testosterone level. I take on more projects than I should because my ambition is sky-high and my confidence is at a peak. And when I fail, as I often do, I shrug it off and skip-off to my next challenge. Testosterone is an awesome drug.
[Here I invite you to doubt whether a man can “feel” his testosterone levels. My experience is that my testosterone levels are as obvious to me during the day as my hunger or my tiredness. Is it imagined?]
At this point in my story you might be wondering why I would intentionally jack up my testosterone levels when I know it makes me even more of an aggressive, egotistical monster than normal. The answer is that I do it strategically. All indications from studies are that over-confidence is correlated with success. So my target range for my body’s chemical composition is whatever creates that feeling of overconfidence. Most of you have never experienced the feeling of overconfidence. I have to tell you it feels great. But it only takes one day of bad lifestyle choices to pound down your testosterone levels and turn you into the mouse in the room.
Back to my main point: In my testosterone-soaked condition, I will interrupt you before you even open your mouth. And I will not feel bad about it. So my question is this: How do women succeed in a business setting surrounded by testosterone-beasts who are interrupters?
In the interest of full-disclosure, I did not believe the “men interrupt women in meetings” claim until recently. I had never noticed the phenomenon, but the science suggests I would be blind to it even if I were the perpetrator. (And I am.) Recently I have had several conversations with executive-level women on this topic and I let them finish enough of their sentences to convince me that this is real. And I think it is a bigger deal than men realize. As I say, we are usually blind to it even while doing it.
Personally, I interrupt anyone who lets me. I have never been aware of interrupting women more often than men. But my hypothesis is that I interrupt people based on my perceived risk. And I would see my risk of interrupting someone with high testosterone, such as a puffed-up male CEO, as high. I would see my risk of interrupting a female CEO as low. None of this is based on reason. It is based on instinct, bias, evolution, and whatnot.
And this ties into another interesting concept I heard the other day from a highly-successful businesswoman: The importance of physical size. The notion here is that evolution makes us fear large people even when we are in a safe environment such as a business context. And men are usually larger. It is easy to imagine (without the benefit of data) that interrupters go easier on large people just because they are intimidating.
The social rules of business evolved around male patterns and preferences. In the short run, we are stuck with that. If you put a smallish creature with low testosterone in a room with a huge creature with high testosterone, you don’t have a setting that is likely to produce the best ideas. You have a situation in which only one opinion is likely to be heard. That can’t be a good thing.
This is a thorny problem because men are not likely to lower their testosterone, women are unlikely to take testosterone supplements for obvious reasons, and men are generally physically larger than women. It seems impossible to fix the interrupting problem, right?
An article in TIME has some suggestions for both men and women on how to handle the women-get-interrupted-more issue. I was surprised to see how practical those ideas are. And I started using the trick of cutting off a man when he cuts off a woman, and directing the conversation back. That one plays to my strength because I get to cut people off.
Questions to ponder:
1. Can a man feel his testosterone level?
2. Have you noticed smaller people getting interrupted more?
3. Do you think testosterone levels influence interruptions?
————— In Top Tech Blog ————–
I do some angel investing, so I see technology that is coming online about two years before the rest of you. The biggest trend I see is miniaturization of medical diagnostic equipment. We are approaching a day when healthcare costs will reverse and begin a permanent decline. (That is my prediction.) See some of the amazing stuff coming. I would call this the most important trend in the world that is not robotics.
Scott Adams’ book on success: “Scott Adams shared some surprisingly practical advice in a very entertaining way.” – Oliver Johnston, 5-Star Amazon review 4/8/15