How many times have you responded in haste, only to have opened the door to more conflict? It’s so easy to just say what’s on your mind without thinking of the lasting impact you have on the people around you and their impression of how you handle yourself.
We’re all guilty of responding too quickly in the heat of the moment. People in authority are especially prone to knee jerk reactions when problems surface. It’s the hasty retort or ‘command and control’ action that later seems ill thought out. Sometimes the effect is minor and easily forgotten. More times than not, the person with the unfiltered desire for expression get labeled as ‘emotional’ or a loose cannon. Look no further than our current presidential primary cycle. Some of these verbal doozies will live in infamy as thoughtless gaffs become defining moments that can never be walked back.
Enter the power of the pause. It’s best applied right between the reactionary brain signals and the words about to leave your mouth. Taking a pause can last only a few seconds but can mean the difference between leaving those around you with something intelligent to ponder or a new source of ridicule around the water cooler. Best of all, if practiced, the pause can become a masterful way to defuse conflicts and return a situation to self reflection on the part of the parties involved.
If you suffer from ‘foot in mouth’ disease and find yourself back peddling as a result of how you handle issues in your company, follow these steps so you can gain more control of your interactions.
1. Understand your own emotional triggers:
We all have things that trigger our emotions. These triggers could be the result of situations we suffered earlier in life. They could be words or actions that offend our sense of morality or right and wrong. They could simply be the result of fatigue or irritability at the time the conflict erupts. Whatever triggers your desire to blast someone or institute a sweeping guideline that goes far beyond the initial issue, recognize it and write it down. Be cognizant of your triggers so over time you will see the conditions for ‘unloading’ coming. As they say in addiction circles, awareness is the first step to recovery and emotional triggers that create unintentional outbursts is no exception.
2. Use ‘Pattern Interrupts’ to gain composure:
Emotional triggers are based on situations in your environment that create patterns recognized by your subconscious. These patterns ignite the triggers that cause unintended outbursts or aggressive actions. By recognizing what causes your triggers, you can interrupt the tendency to react by creating a pattern interrupt. A pattern interrupt is a word that breaks your run away thoughts and allows you to recognize what you may be about to say or do. When the emotional feeling shows up, say your chosen word in your head to interrupt your trigger and gain some momentary composure. Hint: pick a word you are not likely to use in every day speech.
3. Get comfortable with pausing:
In a stressful situation or one that begs for an instant response, pauses create silence. For many, silence is a very disarming, uncomfortable behavior. Learning to use a silent pause can be very effective at bringing the temperature down in the room. Even more so, pausing signals your deliberate intention to control the situation. An effective 4-5 second pause puts everyone on notice that what’s coming next is well thought out and designed to lead the situation in a results oriented direction.
4. During the pause, choose your next step:
Once you invoke the pause, use the time to survey the situation and decide what’s really going on. Then decide how best to respond. The best next step might be to divide the parties and ask questions separately. It might be to invite the source of the conflict into your office for a private discussion. Or it could be as simple as redirecting everyone’s attention back to the work at hand. In all cases, you have reserved any final decision until more understanding can be had about the real issue.
5. Deliver your decision with intention:
The reason most emotional outbursts end badly is because they lack lasting intent. Threats made are rarely carried out. Actions taken in the heat of the moment often times are reversed. All this conditions people to believe you are not serious or don’t really mean what you say. By pausing to decide your best next step, you condition people to recognize your deliberation process.
Over time, being more confident and deliberate about how you address situations in your company will have several benefits. You will reduce your stress level. Your people will be less likely to create conflict once they understand how you respond. Best of all, the guidelines you enact are sure to be observed with more seriousness and less tendency for testing the limits of your patience.
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About the Author
After a stellar 29 year career in the consumer products manufacturing industry, Steve Smith converted his knowledge and experience into a successful business and executive coaching company. In 2008, he opened GrowthSource Coaching in Orange County, CA