How to Shut Down Mansplaining Professionally

Every woman experiences mansplaining at least once in her life. It is defined by the dictionary as when “a man explains something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge of the topic.” One excellent example of it is in a personal essay titled “Men Explain Things To Me” by Rebecca Solnit which appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2008. She states, “explaining men still assume that I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge.” But the term mansplain did not gain popularity until after 2010 around when the New York Times included it as one of the words of the year. 

Currently, a survey of 2,000 women found they experienced mansplaining in the office six times a week. To strangers on the street, women can respond directly when someone is being condescending. But, in an office, maintaining professionalism can become difficult, especially if the person holds a higher position. Below are some professional approaches and phrases you can use to call out this behavior:

Ask for evidence

When you are the subject matter expert, it’s time to demonstrate your knowledge. Mansplainers often present vague questions or corrections with no real point to them. Every time they say something unfounded or vague, ask them for evidence or proof of their claim. 

Practice phrases:
Where in the _____ do you see an error? 

Send me an email describing all the specific issues.

What qualifications do you have in _______ that demonstrate your understanding of _____? 

I have a degree in ABC so I am familiar with this concept. However, I was asking your opinion on XYZ.

I noticed you were confused about ______. Here are some resources you should look into to get better acquainted with this subject matter.

Direct or control the conversation

When someone controls the conversation, talks down to you, or dismisses your expertise it is easy to feel insecure and inadequate despite your capabilities. Ignore feelings of imposter syndrome and find your confidence! You belong in the room and your voice is valuable.

Some ways to redirect the conversation include: pointing out when they cut you off, redirecting to another expert in the room (like their boss), asking them to repeat so the whole room hears, or ending the conversation. During written conversations, try eliminating exclamation points, apologizing, and thank you’s to further express your confidence.

Practice phrases:
Since the meeting is on a time limit, I will be addressing questions at the end of the presentation.

I’d appreciate it if you waited to hear everything I have to say before you give your response.

As per my previous email, you will see I’ve addressed _______ earlier. 

I am open to hearing your questions or concerns after I’ve finished the presentation/my contribution.

Are you correcting an older version of this document because it has already been vetted/accepted/peer-reviewed?

Calm Confidence

Part of executive presence is constantly being cool, calm, and collected. Think of mansplainers as a bully. Yelling at them is not professional. But letting them deflate you is not acceptable. Speak firmly and monotone with specific facts to poke holes in their unfounded arguments. Also, be aware of your posture. Maintain eye contact, keep your chin up, and your shoulders back to present yourself confidently and non-confrontational.

Practice phrase:

Your suggestion is noted, however…

I have this under control.

I know how to use ______.

my suggestion is more efficient and cost-effective/better ROI. 

Address it Directly

The mansplainer’s relationship with you dictates how you can address the issue and concern. If they are a peer, then correct their misinformation where possible and try to promote and request mutual respect. If they are a manager or executive, give them the benefit of the doubt initially and show you are trying to be conscious of their time management. Your tone and response need to be appropriate to the relationship you have with the mansplainer. However, if either continues to diminish you after you’ve spoken to them about it, then it’s time to look for a different position. But above all else, do not ignore them. When you ignore the situation, you are supporting their behavior instead of correcting it to prevent other women from experiencing it.

Practice phrases:

To managers/executives…

If you are free sometime today, I’d be more than happy to walk you through the steps and explain why your suggestion to _________ does not work/goes over the budget. 

You might not be aware but I have ______ years of experience/credentials in this subject. So you won’t need to explain this concept to me and we can move on to the point of the matter.

To peers…

Whenever we speak about _____, you (insert mansplaining action). Since we are both professional experts in this field, I would like to move forward with trust and respect for each other’s work.

I noticed you are (insert mansplaining action). I am not sure if you are aware of my (insert years of experience/credentials), and will not need any further help understanding  _______.

Your enthusiasm is noted, however, these issues were addressed (insert time). 

I believe I shared that idea with you/the group yesterday during (insert time). 

Since you have free time to check additional work outside of your assignments, then perhaps you should talk to the project manager about stretch opportunities.

Support other women

Chances are the individual mansplaining is not only doing it to you. Support other women in your office every chance you get. Some ways you can do that is by bringing their opinions into the mix, backing up their experience, supporting their suggestion with evidence, or showing gratitude for their ideas/help.

Practice phrases:

Interesting suggestions, but (insert female coworker’s name) is a subject matter expert on this subject, so I’d like her to weigh in on this matter.

(Insert female coworker’s name) is the peer reviewing the _____, so you should consult with her on the issue you feel is there. 

I believe (insert female coworker’s name) noted this yesterday. Could you repeat what you said so we are all on the same page?

Bump them to another project or talk to their manager

If you are the executive or manager, then you have the authority to move the mansplainer off the team. Give specific examples of how they hinder the timeline, cost, or ROI when you make your ask.

If you are not a manager or lead, then turn to their/your executive. Send an email or ask for a meeting where you can bring specific examples of how they hinder your work, the project’s timeline, cost, or ROI. If your executive or manager is male, be sure to explain why mansplaining is harmful to you and the office environment as well. 

When to go to HR

Go to HR if the behavior continues even after you’ve directly asked them to stop. Treat it like any other case of harassment in the office. Their behavior is unacceptable no matter who they are in the company.

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