The Power of Pause

Never underestimate the power of pause. When I taught the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,  I loved Habit 1, Be Proactive, because it’s based on the principle of pausing before reacting. It’s a game changer when it comes to decisions and relationships.

Using pause in everyday situations

Here’s a scenario you may relate to. You come home after a busy day. The kids were supposed to clean the kitchen and get dinner started. You walk in the door to a messy kitchen with no sign of dinner on the horizon. Your kids are engrossed in a video game.  You react. You yell, tell them you had a terrible day, you’re starving and how selfish they are for playing video games. How does that work out?  Now everyone’s upset, the kitchen’s still a mess and there’s no dinner. 

Let’s rewind.  You come home after a busy day, the kitchen isn’t clean, no dinner on the horizon and the kids are playing video games.  You pause and think about your desired outcome: a clean kitchen, dinner and a stress-free evening with your family. So instead of yelling, you say: “Hey guys, how’s it going? And they respond, “Great mom, we’re having a blast playing this new game.” “That’s great,” you say, with much alacrity and then you say: “I’ve had a stressful day and I’d appreciate it if you could clean the kitchen up and get dinner started.” They may hem and haw but you’ll have a better chance of getting them away from the TV and into the kitchen.

Pause and decide what you are going to do first.

A triumphant “pause” story

Here’s a story about a triumphant “pause” experience I had.  I’d been asking my son to clean his room all week and he hadn’t.  As I drove home from work, I prepared my lashing out at him speech. It went something like this: “I’ve been asking you all week to clean your room up and it’s still a mess.  I’ve been working all day and you can’t even clean your room up? I shop, I clean, blah, blah blah.”  

As I walked in the door, I paused to think about the outcome I wanted.  If I yelled at him, he may not even clean his room up and if he did, he’d do it begrudgingly. He’d be mad and probably wouldn’t even speak to me at dinner. Evening botched 🙁 .

So, instead, I went in his room, saw him doing his homework (he had no idea about the battle raging in my head) and I asked him to clean his room.  He jumped off his bed and said –sure!  How easy was that? No botched up evening! The power of pause.

Think about the outcome you want

At an Emotional Intelligence seminar I attended, a wise facilitator said that before you lash out at someone, consider the outcome you want for the situation.  Saying hurtful things damages relationships.  Pausing to think for a minute, a day, or even a week, considering the gravity of the situation, gives you time to come up with a thoughtful response. Whatever the result, you’ve started the conversation from a calmer place and the outcome will be better.  Maybe you resolve a conflict, clarify a situation or you understand each other’s concerns.

Using pause in highly charged emotional situations 

What about those highly charged emotional situations?  In July 2017 my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Me, my seven siblings, and dad were discussing how to move forward.  Two of my medical siblings spewed out bleak medical data.  “She may not be able to walk or take care of herself. She’ll have to sleep downstairs, because the stairs may be too hard to climb. She may need a feeding tube and on and on.”   It was like they were talking about some obscure, nameless, patient, instead of my mother who was sitting right in front of them.  

Use pause in highly charge situations

All this depressing medical stuff scared me.  I loved my mom and I didn’t want her to suffer.  I knew she didn’t want to die.  She was 88 and on the move. She played bridge, golfed with her BFF’s and took care of my grumpy dad. All 13 of her grandkids loved her. She had a charming southern accent and was always interested in everyone’s lives. You felt like a better person around her. I was angry at their aloofness and she looked miserable hearing about her potential demise and death.

I wanted to lighten up this foreboding atmosphere and include my mom in the conversation. So, I did the unthinkable. I dared to go up against the medical narcissists and said that maybe the treatment would go well. I asked mom how she felt. She said she was sad and wished she didn’t have cancer.  It broke my heart.

Being bold did not go well for me

Apparently, my bold words were too emotional.  Brother#2 said, that my opinions were important but I needed to keep my emotions in check and just “state the facts. Everyone in my family is sarcastic.  So, jokingly I said: “That’s fine but I don’t really care about your opinion anyway.” 

Doc brother #1 did not like this and yelled at me saying I was rude and brother#2 had valid opinions.  My sister chimed in, in agreement. Tension was high. My dad stood up and yelled “stop arguing!”  I was on high defense, my heart making a b-line out of my chest. But, I repeated back what brother#1 said. “So you think I offended brother#2? That “pause” gave me moment to grab my heart back.  He blurted out yes and yelled at me more. So I asked brother#2 if I offended him. He said yes and started yelling at me.

But then, I made a magical move. Much to everyone’s surprise, I apologized. A huge “pause” settled over the room. My heart- rate was almost back to normal as the tension carefully edged it’s way down.

Afterwards, all five brothers came up, we hugged and they asked if “we were good.” It had been tense, but there was so much at stake – our mom’s life — so everyone was upset.  That pause was the super hero of the day.

The Power of Pause 

As you can see, pause holds A LOT of power. If I’d taken the non-pause approach and gotten defensive, The sibling army would have hurled verbal boulders my way and thrown me to the lions. It would have been a messy four days and we wouldn’t have gotten anything resolved.

How many discussions turn into arguments because you react instead of pausing?

How many discussions turn to arguments and spiral out of control because people react based on emotions and default to defense mode. They spew the first thing that comes to mind and those in the crossfire get angry, hurt, or resentful. Consider the following quote:

“Thinking is the place where intelligent actions begin. We pause long enough to look more carefully at a situation, to see more of its character, to think about why it’s happening, to notice how it’s affecting us and others.”
Margaret Wheatley 

So when the next tense situation hits your doorstep, pause and consider your desired outcome.  If you’re asked a question and feel awkward answering it, use these powerful pause words: “Let me think about it.”  I’ve said yes many times to things I didn’t want to do because I reacted immediately. But now, I consider the question and respond when I’m good and ready.

You don’t have to pause every time you get asked you something.  But if you feel pressured, anxious or troubled use the power pause words.

I’ll end with a quote from one of my favorite bears:

“Love is taking a few steps backward maybe even more to give way to the happiness of the person you love.”
—Winnie the Pooh

And that person you’re taking a step back for also includes you!

As always, leave a comment or email me. I’d love to hear your experiences trying this powerful technique.

Picture of me, the bloggerer

Until next week,

Kathy 🙂

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