You’re ready to start the week with a fresh new outlook and focus. It’s Monday, and you’ve got this! You’ve surveyed your schedule and you know what’s expected of you – you’re feeling calm, centred and skilfully ready. You sit down at your desk to handle a few emails, and an hour later you look up again feeling less focused and a little hijacked by other people’s agendas. But you shake it off, grab a cup of coffee, and ready yourself for your 0900 meeting.
Just as you’ve settled yourself again, one of your team phones with a problem that they’re uncertain how to handle and which could seriously delay the timetable for the rest of the week if not handled immediately. As you’re digesting the issue at hand, your 0900 meeting starts and the first question asked is out of left field, derailing the big picture of how you thought this meeting was going to go. You snap out a response, not entirely sure whether you’re aiming at the team member on the phone with a problem, or the person now needing your attention in the meeting.
It’s only 0905 on Monday, and you’re wondering where your calm and centred approach went. Juggling has commenced, and the week runs away like that.
I’m often asked which, of all the Communication Tools I teach, is my favourite, and if there’s one that I couldn’t do without, it’s The Pause.
There are poems written about taking time to smell the roses etc, and I’m all for finding those moments to be present and appreciative of the world as it passes by. These moments are regenerative and without them, not only would we miss a lot, but we’d probably go mad. But, that’s not the pause I’m talking about.
As we hurry through our busy lives, we tend to fill every moment with “something to do”. Moments not filled with purposeful intent tend to fill themselves with emails and other people’s agendas. There is always something that needs doing. Someone that needs something. And never more so than when you’re part of a team. If we allow it, the pace speeds up to a point where we can hardly draw breath either mentally or physically.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a great, animated discussion – the type of conversation we have in Southern Africa where everyone talks over each other, adding their “5 cents worth” with vigour and humour, and other cultures aren’t sure whether we’re talking or arguing, but WE all understand exactly what’s going on. Then there’s the ladies-lunching-with-ladies type of conversation which I treasure. “How do you keep track of what’s going on when you all talk at once??” I was asked by an incredulous man. Somehow, we do. We psych up for it and leave more energized than we arrived. More concerning is the silent table where only one woman is talking and the rest are listening intently. Be assured, there’s trouble there!
So how does a Pause become a tool for Communication, and how do we use it to stop becoming hijacked by the increasing speed of other people’s agendas?
Some of you may be familiar with the now-outdated command “Touch – PAUSE – Engage!” given during a rugby scrum. THAT’s the pause I’m talking about. When it comes to communication skills, we draw our inspiration from many places! Let me explain.
Initially, there was no pause in the scrum and there was no obligation for the opposing props to measure the distance between them by touching each other’s outside shoulder. The two rival teams came crashing together in a sweaty dispute for possession of the ball, and the resultant force was the cause of many neck injuries. Often, the scrum collapsed and had to be restarted spoiling the flow of the game and raising already high tensions. Eventually, the command was changed to include the pause, allowing the teams time to get into position, gauge their distance and check their stability. Only then did they engage with measured force – enough to achieve the objective but not enough to cause a life-threatening injury. More effective scrums = better flowing and safer games.
“Touch – PAUSE – Engage!” is a tool that translates well into the field of Communication.
“Touch” is the first point of contact that measures distance and intent. Perhaps you receive an email, answer a phone call, or are addressed in a face-to-face conversation. This first touch is something to be measured for tone, content and “distance”. If, as previously, we dive into reacting before we’ve measured and stabilised ourselves, our results can be similar to a collapsing scrum. Often, we wish we could un-send an email. Retract a comment. Rephrase a response. Occasionally, given the right ingredients, our responses may escalate a situation to the point where we wish someone with a whistle would come and sort it out before permanent injury results.
Remembering that we have a valuable choice before we “engage” in our response is priceless. We all have a pause. We just have to remember to use it.
Like anything we aim to improve on, when we first start to employ tools to master communication, it can feel awkward. If the primary tool you practice using is your pause, you create a space within which to pick N-number of other tools at your disposal.
How to use your Pause
Using your pause sounds like saying “Thank you, I’ll get back to you on that” when it’s face to face, or simply not succumbing to that impulsive need to respond immediately when you open an email or see the two ticks go blue on a WhatsApp conversation. Sometimes, it can just mean saying nothing and maintaining a neutral expression while you allow your brain to kick in. Or, when someone has placed a difficulty verbally in your hands, you can simply toss it back to them with an interested and understanding-toned “I see. What are you going to do about that?”. Often things sort themselves out without our input, and others rise to the occasion and employ their strengths, leaving us to continue with what we had on our own plate.
Within our pause, we can consider all the factors that may be at play. We can build perspective on the matter at hand. We can develop compassion and sound intelligent upfront, rather than wishing we’d said something different afterwards. We can come away having communicated for connection and growth rather than having increased the distance. The more we practice, the swifter we become at assessing what’s needed. With practise, we become more aware and more accomplished in the field of human relations.
Our pause often acts as a buffer that stops the world from speeding up to that unmanageable pace where everything feels like it’s required on the fly. What makes The Pause my favourite out of all the Communication Tools is that within our Pause is where it all happens. It’s where we can maintain ownership of our time, space and responses. It’s where we can choose to go forward with a measured response that allows the game to keep flowing.
We all have a pause. Practise using yours today.
by Christen Killick
July 26th, 2021