Two Questions with Adam Bryant

Stella & Dot CEO: Here's what to say when a guy is mansplaining you

Of all the challenges that women face at work, perhaps the most persistent and powerful is the problem of men talking over women, mansplaining, and repeating their ideas as if they were their own.

You want to call it out, but what's the best approach for having the conversation so that it ends on a positive rather than confrontational note?

In my "Two Questions" interview with Jessica Herrin, founder and CEO of Stella & Dot, the online jewelry and fashion site, she explained a smart way to have this difficult conversation.

Founder and CEO of Stella & Dot Jessica Herrin (left) speaks on a panel about overcoming gender bias.
Marla Aufmuth | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Founder and CEO of Stella & Dot Jessica Herrin (left) speaks on a panel about overcoming gender bias.

"If you ever feel like you're not being heard," Herrin said, "I would go address the person who was talking over you and say, 'Hey, listen, I bet you didn't intend to do this but this is how I felt during the meeting. What would make you an even more valued partner for me is if we walked out of a meeting and we both felt heard.'"

She added: "I think you have to assume that the people doing it to you are not doing it because they're nefarious, that they're not doing it because they don't value you and that they don't have ill-intent. They just have habits that they need to break, and they'll be on your side if you go up to them without an angry accusation."

In fact, the secret to this strategy is that it creates an aspirational goal for the male colleague, rather than pointing out a shortcoming.

Presenter Brooke Anderson and CEO and founder of Stella & Dot Jessica Herrin attend Stella & Dot VIP Trunk Show.
Ari Perilstein | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Presenter Brooke Anderson and CEO and founder of Stella & Dot Jessica Herrin attend Stella & Dot VIP Trunk Show.

Here's another short script that Herrin suggests women can use in these one-on-one discussions: "You talked over me, and it made me feel bad and undervalued. What would be more productive for me is if we got to share the air. How about next time you let me lead? Wouldn't this company be more productive if everybody got to speak at the meeting, and wouldn't you be a hero for being a person who showed that you were a leader who let other people be heard?"

Granted, you never know how the man might react to that conversation, but women shouldn't shy away from those difficult moments, Herrin said.

"Confrontation is not a bad thing when it comes to direct communication with candor," she added. "You can be candid and kind at the same time. And to advance women in the workplace, women have to recognize that there should be nothing controversial or negative with directly communicating and giving real-time feedback on how productive a meeting was."

"And if you can share how you feel so that you're speaking from a place of inarguable truth rather than accusation, the other person's going to be a lot more open-minded. They're going to respect you."

Adam Bryant is a CNBC contributor and managing director of Merryck & Co., a senior leadership development and executive mentoring firm. A veteran journalist, Bryant interviewed more than 500 leaders for the "Corner Office" feature he created at The New York Times. Check out more interviews in the Two Questions series, as well as CNBC's ongoing coverage of women in business, Closing The Gap. Parts of this interview were edited for clarity and space.

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