Nobody wants to be the target of mansplaining at work. Here's how to shut down the office know-it-all.

Show of hands, please: How many of you have ever been in a meeting and had a colleague go deep on a subject about which you're quite knowledgeable? Had a teammate questioned your credibility on that subject? Or perhaps had a coworker detail nuances of your lived experience to you? 

If your palm isn't raised, you might be a mansplainer. 

By definition, mansplaining is rooted in chauvinism. But while "man" is a key part of the term — and examples of men mansplaining are abundant and would be hilarious if they weren't so painful — the behaviors associated with it aren't limited to males

Sian Beilock is a cognitive scientist who is Dartmouth College's first female president-elect.
Sian Beilock is a cognitive scientist who is Dartmouth College's first female president-elect. 
Sian Beilock

"It's a common psychological phenomenon, and women do it, too," Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist and Dartmouth College's first female president-elect, told Insider. 

Regardless of who's doing it, the heart of the issue is our natural-born egocentrism, according to Beilock. We tend to think about our experiences from our own perspectives, and mansplaining occurs when we voice that aloud by, intentionally or not, failing to "take into account others' knowledge" and/or "what they have experienced," she said.

It would be like me, a Gen Xer, expounding on the cultural phenomenon of TikTok to my Gen Z colleague who covers the influencer economy.  Of course, there are more insidious examples, too.

Studies suggest that mansplaining is more than a workplace frustration; it can have serious consequences both for companies and careers. On an organizational level, mansplaining harms decision-making by tamping down creativity and innovation. And from an individual point of view, having your competence questioned cuts into job satisfaction, confidence, and engagement. 

"The best ideas happen when you feel like you can challenge and make mistakes," Beilock said. "When you feel you're going to be judged, you can't take risks. That's why the goal is to create a big tent where people feel like they belong and that they can be heard."

Insider spoke with three workplace experts for advice on how managers and employees can deal with the office mansplainer.

Managing a mansplainer is tough

If you have a mansplainer on your team and you're the one in charge, you have a responsibility to take action. 

"Managers need to validate other people's experiences, perspectives, and knowledge," Beilock said. 

Stephanie Heath is the founder of SoulWork & Six Figures.
Stephanie Heath is the founder of SoulWork & Six Figures. 
Stephanie Heath

That's why bosses need to regularly communicate how important it is to get input from everyone on the team. "Managers should acknowledge they don't have all the answers and emphasize that it's OK to make mistakes," she said. "You're not going to get the best outcomes if there aren't avenues to challenge conventional ideas and take risks."

Stephanie Heath, the founder of SoulWork & Six Figures, which offers career coaching for women in tech, recommended talking to the offender one on one. Don't accuse. Rather, she said, ask questions such as: "How do you see the working environment?" and, "How do you experience relationships with team members?"

Mansplainers are often oblivious to the problem, she told Insider. "They might think they're being helpful or they're just terrible at communicating." 

Then share your own observations of team meetings and interactions. Talk about your colleagues' credentials. "Say, 'Mike, I know you're passionate about XYZ. Were you aware Jane and Sue went to school for XYZ, and they've worked in this field before?'" Heath said.

Assume positive intent and encourage self-regulation, she added. "Say, 'Maybe you're not aware you're taking up so much airtime. If you find yourself talking for longer than a minute, I'd like you to pause and give others a chance to speak.'"

Be patient: You might not see immediate improvement. And if the mansplaining continues, you might need to shut it down in real-time. "As the leader, you need to take responsibility for people's mental health and safety within the group. It's your job," Heath said.

Get to know your local mansplainer

If you're a regular target of mansplaining, and you're not the boss, the situation can be trickier to navigate, Anita Williams Woolley, a professor of organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business, told Insider. 

Your strategy will depend on the situation. If the mansplainer is a colleague with whom you have regular meetings, Woolley suggests enlisting others on the team as allies. "You need someone who can help out by jumping in and saying, 'Actually, Jane knows a lot about this. Let's hear from her,'" she said. "This person can also make clear when something was your good idea."

Without an ally, it can be hard to put a stop to mansplaining as it's happening, Woolley said. One idea is to invite the mansplainer for coffee and have an informal get-to-know-you conversation. No need to humble-brag — research shows that won't work anyway. But instead, talk about who you are and what you know.

"Make sure they understand what you bring to the table," she said.

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