The Power of the Pause
Becoming emotionally intelligent is a process through which we become acutely aware of our responses and how we show up in any given situation. It’s defined as the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.
Viktor Frankl, in his groundbreaking book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” offers this poignant thought: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Emotional Intelligence is dictated by the responses we choose and may determine the quality of our interpersonal relationships, organizational culture, and even our family dynamic. Those with high emotional intelligence are more likely to stay calm under pressure, resolve conflict effectively and respond to others with empathy. Unfortunately, we often operate on autopilot and resort to negative, knee-jerk reactions rather than responding thoughtfully and appropriately.
These thoughtless, knee-jerk reactions are blind spots that occur at an unconscious level. Many believe that these spontaneous reactions are caused by deeply ingrained responses that have become habitual, and originate from beliefs and assumptions that we have brought forth from past experiences. Because we are unaware of these blind spots, making a conscious choice to respond differently is difficult.
So, how do we go from autopilot to making a thoughtful response in these critical milliseconds?
When a person, event, relationship, or conversation triggers an emotion, utilizing the pause between the stimulus and response can help you avoid operating on autopilot and resorting to default behaviors. The pause is a form of self-management, which allows you to see and choose your thoughts, then shift your response with more considered words and actions toward a desired positive outcome.
Here are a few more benefits of the power of the pause:
Using a 6 second pause to breathe deeply and think about how similar conversations have gone in the past, or how this one will be resolved, gives you a chance to assess what you’re feeling. Is defensiveness or judgment creeping into the conversation? Are you trying to force a result rather than truly connect? The pause allows you time to make adjustments to stay fully engaged.
Most times, we’re listening to respond, but pausing and truly listening slows the tempo and allows authentic, connected communication to flow. Many times, our first impulse is driven by reactive emotions. Pausing gives you time to settle, reflect and respond thoughtfully, which can be more effective than an impulsive, emotional reaction.
Pausing helps others feel heard and understood. Think back to the last time you had a conversation where you felt the other person was really, truly listening to you. It felt pretty good, didn’t it? Now imagine the difference this could make in your relationships, organization, and family if you did the same thing.
Our culture typically isn’t very comfortable with the pause - we’re used to filling up space with words and other stimulus. However, there is power in the pause and practicing it is something you can start today. With consistent use, it will become part of your communication style and you should experience improvement in the quality of your interpersonal relationships, organizational culture, and even your family dynamic. You’ll feel it - and so will others - when you “make them feel like they’re the most important person in the room.”