We admire the aura of the authority and confidence shown by making an instant decision, the efficiency shown by whipping through messages and firing off replies, the mental sharpness shown by coming up with an instant response.
However, an immediate reaction is not always the best one. It doesn’t sound quite so finger-snappingly on the ball, but pausing before you respond may be the smartest thing to do. It’s the difference between reacting and responding.
Our reactions are automatically triggered by a stimulus; our responses can be more measured and more appropriate. And responding rather than reacting can cut down the time you spend apologizing for what you said or did on the spur of the moment…
Pause before saying yes or no
You may know immediately that you need to say no to what is being asked of you. You open your mouth to say it, and something entirely different pops out.
Now you’re landed with the project you didn’t want to take on or doing the teas for the AGM which you swore you’d never do again or lending your Young Person the car on a day when you really need it.
And this happens even though you know what reply you want to give. You may even have practised it. But your automatic reflexes kick in and you have given the wrong answer before you realize it.
It can happen the other way round too, when you follow your impulse to say no, and regret it (a familiar premise for romcoms, but real life may not bring a happy ending).
Get into the habit of pausing before responding to requests or suggestions. Take just a few seconds to process what has been said and to decide how you want to respond.
Take a steadying breath before you speak. Buy a little bit of time by repeating the question or making a comment without actually giving an a answer.
- ‘OK, so you’d like me to…’
- ‘So let me get it right, the idea is that…’
- ‘So what you’re asking is…’
- ‘That sounds good…’
You might like to develop a secret little trick to remind yourself not to jump right in. You could get into the habit of pinching your finger and thumb together, or touching your earlobe. If really stuck, you could drop something and take your time picking it up. That’s not such a good look, though, especially if you do it often..
Pause before sending a written communication
It’s so easy to press ‘send’. There, done. Your missive lands in the recipient’s electronic lap. Or it’s out of your hand and into the postbox — eek. All you can do is hang around the box hoping that a kind-hearted postie will break all the rules and give you back your written-in-haste letter. Or you left a note on the kitchen table, you wish you hadn’t, and you’re now miles from home.
With spoken communication, we can quickly retract or qualify what we have said. Not so with the written word.
And what is worse, your message can be pondered over and shared with others and filed for future reference.
Get into the habit of always, always re-reading your message before you send it.
- Do my words communicate what I want them to?
- Have I used the right kind of language?
- Have I got the tone right?
- What do I want the recipient to think/do?
- How would I feel if I were receiving this?
- How will the recipient react if they read this when they are feeling tired/fed up/angry/hungry?
And even when you have gone over what you have written, wait for a short period of time, maybe five minutes, maybe half an hour, before letting it go. If it’s a particularly sensitive piece of communication, wait for 24 hours, or at least sleep on it. Things have a way of looking different in the morning.
Pause before you post or tweet
The ease of instant communication is the name of the game, but there’s no harm in a short pause, just long enough to focus on what you are about to communicate.
There may be times when you think, hmm, better not use that word, or actually, now might not be the best time for this…
Pause before responding to criticism
Even if the criticism is totally justified, it’s hard to hear. Your automatic reaction might be to fly into defence or attack mode. You might feel the anger or the tears rising.
Gain some control by taking a calming breath (it really does work) and again, buy time by repeating what has been said.
- ‘So what you’re saying is (use this form rather than ‘you’re saying’, which is more confrontational) that I’m not pulling my weight.’
However the conversation develops, you will be more in control than if you had given in to your immediate impulse.
Pause before giving criticism
The kind of critical comment which is most likely to be quickly triggered is the kind which begins with ‘you always’ or ‘why don’t you’ or ‘you’re so…’
You have every right to your annoyed and irritated feelings, but a pause is good. All you have to do is not speak. Don’t say it. All it will achieve is unpleasantness.
If you feel that you have a valid point to make, make it when you have chosen your words more carefully. You will probably decide not to begin your feedback with the word ‘you’, and that would be a very good thing.
Pause before passing on a piece of gossip
Ooh, it’s so tempting. You’re in the flow, everyone’s enjoying the conversation and you have this little titbit which they would SO enjoy…
Pause. It’s like that old diet mantra, a minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. Your hips are just fine, but a few words from your lips could create the kind of damage you don’t intend to inflict. No harm in mentally running through that other mantra:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
And you might add:
- Is this the right place?
- Are these the right people?
While you’re doing this, it’s just possible that the moment has passed and the conversation has moved on. So you have another checking point where you can decide whether to go back to your hot item, or let it drop.
Of course you could mentally reply ‘no’ to all the above questions, and go ahead anyway. Your choice.