Photo of Gloria Cotton

You’re in a work meeting when suddenly, a brilliant idea pops into your head that you just have to share with the team. You have the floor, and you start explaining your thoughts. Out of nowhere, your co-worker Lee cuts you off.

You tell yourself it was just a one-time thing, and let it slide. After the meeting, you begin to work on your new deliverables. Suddenly, you think about what Lee did. And you remember Lee has cut you off in other meetings. Huh. Guess it wasn’t a one-time thing after all.

The next week, someone asks a question about a project you’re itching to discuss. You start to respond, but Lee interrupts you—again! It’s not just your imagination. This is a pattern of how Lee relates to you in meetings. You feel frustrated and disrespected. What should you do? You’ve got some options.

You could say nothing. You might decide you don’t want to deal with it, for whatever reason. Perhaps you don’t work with Lee often, or Lee is your boss and you’re afraid that if you say something you’ll be committing political suicide. Maybe you want to say something, but you’re worried Lee will deny it or see it as an attack. If you choose to say nothing, ask yourself: how long can you ignore it or “suck it up” before you eventually start resenting or disrespecting Lee?

Will you start ignoring or discounting what Lee says and does, or hold Lee to a higher degree of scrutiny than you hold others? Unfortunately, while you’re going through these mental and emotional gymnastics, you’re not focusing your attention on the meetings, and could be letting an unresolved issue distract from your work.

You could say something to other co-workers. You may just want commiseration—a partner to validate your feelings and whatever action you decide to take. You could ask your co-worker Chris, “Did you notice that Lee cut me off every time I said something in the meeting last week?” If Chris didn’t notice it, see if you feel compelled to share your story. And if Chris did notice it, bounce ideas off each other on next steps to take.

You could say something directly to Lee. But before you blow your lid, take some advice from Stephen Covey: Begin With the End in Mind. What is your goal for the conversation? How can you and your co-worker feel honored during and after the conversation?

Here are some steps you can take to help you get to—or at least identify—a synergistic outcome:

Step 1

Acknowledge your feelings – all of them.

In this case, you are feeling frustrated and disrespected. It’s important not to further frustrate and disrespect yourself by judging those feelings. Acknowledge them. “I’m feeling frustrated and disrespected, and here’s why…” Get the feelings out. You can write them down or speak them out. Just do so in a way that neither you nor anyone else, including Lee, ends up frustrated and disrespected.

Step 2

Engage others.

Before speaking with your colleague, consider speaking with someone who will help you develop a strategic, forward-moving, relationship-building, performance-focused strategy and action plan. That person may be a friend, colleague, coach, or mentor.

If you are not emotionally triggered and are skilled enough to create a synergistic strategy and action plan without the help of someone else, consider engaging someone as a sounding board to vet the strategy and plan you’ve already developed. Share your thoughts, then ask for their reactions and suggestions for improvement.

If you have a solid relationship of mutual respect with your co-worker, you may elect to speak with them directly after developing your goal, strategy, and plan instead of engaging someone else.

Step 3

Identify a synergistic outcome.

Don’t skip this step. It’s important to everyone and helps create intellectual and emotional safety.

Ask Yourself:
What will inspire your co-worker to have a conversation with you and what will make them delighted during and after the conversation? In other words, what’s in it for them? What will motivate them to engage, listen, and apply?

Consider this mindset and approach:
 “I need Lee to fully listen to my ideas and comments before interrupting me in meetings. I am turned off by that behavior. It shuts down brainstorming, and erodes my trust and respect for Lee, as well as the trust and respect others have for Lee. I know that Lee is passionate about the job and wants to get ahead. Given these things, the synergistic goal of the conversation is that we’ll both earn the professional brand of being energized, innovative, and inclusive thought partners that leaders invite to be on stretch projects that we’re passionate about and that are aligned with our career goals. To engage and excite Lee before, during, and after the conversation, I’ll need to…”

The rest of your action plan and outline for the conversation will depend on respectfully factoring in your diverse perspectives, concerns, goals, communication styles, personalities, etc.

Step 4

Speak with your co-worker.

During the conversation, be sure to ask questions to discover and fill in the gaps of what you don’t know, confirm mutual understanding, clarify behavioral next steps, and affirm commitment, engagement, and accountability.

Let’s be real.

This takes time and energy. You may feel you have neither or that you don’t want to spend either dealing with your co-worker and his or her behavior. Ask yourself, “What do I win and what do I lose if I do and if I don’t address the this issue respectfully?” Your answers to those questions can serve as your motivation and will guide you to your next steps.