Trump’s debate interruptions are a workplace problem

Rex Huppke - Guest Columnist

Rex Huppke Guest Columnist

That loud noise you kept hearing during the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was me sighing. Over and over and over again.

I try to avoid politics in this column, but our presidential campaign is omnipresent and invariably becomes relevant to the workplace. The relevancy this time involves the ease with which Trump interrupted Clinton while the two were debating.

In case you weren’t counting, it was 51 times. Fifty-one times over a 90-minute period the man on stage interrupted the woman on stage while she was speaking.

It’s at this juncture in any column addressing sexism where I tell any male readers whose blood pressure is rising, the ones about to scream something about political correctness, to calm down and try to understand someone else’s point of view. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. It lowers the adrenaline.

In addition to the incessant interrupting, Trump’s casual sexism during the debate included a snide “I want you to be very happy, it’s very important to me” and a comment at the end about a woman he once called a “pig” having deserved such an insult. Trump also, on several occasions, said Clinton was lying about past comments he had made, when in fact she was absolutely correct.

These are all textbook examples of the way men in the workplace — sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously — demean, deter or generally make life more difficult for women.

Are things better than the entirely male-dominated days of old? Of course. Considerably better.

But are there still problems? Oh my, yes.

In May, I wrote about the rise of workplace “mansplaining,” when men feel compelled to talk down to female colleagues and explain things to them that they already understand. How does most mansplaining start? With an interruption, of course.

The issue of men interrupting women has been studied over and over again, going back to the 1970s. And it’s a behavior that persists, with one recent study showing men interrupt women three times more often than they interrupt other men.

Susan Lee, chairwoman and master lecturer of social sciences at Boston University, recently told The Boston Globe: “Why do people interrupt? They feel they are entitled to interrupt because they are higher status. When the floor opens up for conversation in any setting, the men speak up and speak first and then people defer to them.”

If you’re a man, ask any woman in your life and I guarantee she will recount instances of this happening.

So, getting back to the presidential debate, we have a problem when someone being considered for the position of leader of the free world stands before a massive television audience and engages in this kind of behavior.

Whatever you think of Trump, millions of Americans like him and support him and think he can do no wrong. So they’re watching his behavior and regarding it as the way a winner behaves.

And that’s where this gets dangerous. Because I’m here to tell you that talking down to a woman, interrupting her or dabbling in any manner of body-shaming is NOT how a winner behaves — not in any aspect of life and most certainly not in the workplace.

(This is not an endorsement of Clinton. She brings her own set of flaws to the table. Understand, I’m only focusing in on the male-female dynamic that was at play during the debate.)

We normalize boorish workplace behavior at our own peril. It’s antithetical to the kind of work cultures most companies now strive to create, ones that are respectful, inclusive and kind.

And yet, Trump is widely embraced. Perhaps some of that support is a pushback against the end of the “Mad Men”-style workplace, a longing for the days when nobody griped about a man talking over a woman.

Whatever the reason, and regardless of whether Trump wins or loses in November, companies have to be mindful of how his brashness might influence workers.

Because I don’t see how such a large portion of the population can idolize someone like Trump and then not start mimicking some of his behaviors, or at least view such behavior as acceptable.

You don’t have to get political in the workplace to remind employees about the importance of letting all voices be heard, of being respectful to each other and willing to, as I said earlier, see the world through the eyes of another person — perhaps the person whom you keep interrupting.

If Trump could’ve done that on the debate stage, he might’ve set a stronger example for those who consider him an ideal businessman.

Instead he came off as a throwback, a loud and opinionated man in a suit perfectly at ease ignoring a woman trying to make a point and interrupting her. Fifty-one times.

That’s the kind of behavior companies are trying eradicate. Trump’s not helping on that front.


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Rex Huppke Guest Columnist Huppke Guest Columnist

Rex Huppke

Guest Columnist

Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @RexWorksHere.

Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @RexWorksHere.

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