“Count to ten before responding to a tough question” — we all know this rule from our early years. It means – do not respond quickly to anything which emotionally touches you. Take a pause to let your emotions calm down and give your brain a chance to regain control. But why do many people not follow this simple rule?
It’s easier said than done. Mother Nature gave us this defensive mechanism even before humans appeared on Earth. If you see how your dog or cat responds to an unexpected event, like when something frightens them, you’ll understand why it’s so difficult for us to resist responding the same way. We’re simply hard-wired to perform this “fight or flight” response when there’s even a tiny possibility that we’re getting attacked. And the key word here is “possibility”. If we perceive an event, a phrase, anything really, written or said aloud, addressed to us or to anybody else, as offensive, we respond in an emotional and, naturally, defensive way. You can search the Internet to learn more about the biological explanation to this phenomenon, my point is about its social (and business-related) effect.
So, what’s the problem? The problem is our brain is not consciously involved in such a response – it’s almost 100% emotionally driven. It also means that when we calm down, when are able to filter out the emotional component, we are (always!) able to find a better response – whether it be wording, tone, or any other verbal or non-verbal cue. So here goes the first sub-rule: if the request, message or news doesn’t require immediate response – do not respond immediately! I never respond immediately to any email if it triggers an emotional response. Even just a couple of minutes allows me to think about the response and correct what could be an emotional response. The second sub-rule I have (and try to always follow) – if time allows for it (and if my emotional response was very intense) then I need to “sleep” on my response and return to it a day later. A great example of when I’ve had to do this is during recent job change discussions – even when I received all the answers during a phone-call I took a one-night pause to think it over once again. An answer which is well considered, all-around over time, is the one you sub-consciously adhere to.
It’s also important to apply these rules to any emotionally “spiced” reactions, not just negative. There have been cases when I was very positive about news I just received, an opportunity or an idea, and I supported it using my feelings, not my intelligence. It may not be as destructive as a defensive response but the results may last even longer. For example, when I take part in negotiations with customers or government officials (and I do a lot of both) – an idea suggested by another party may seem super beneficial at first glance, but a thorough thought plus consulting other Intel stakeholders protects me from making commitments which would be very difficult to keep otherwise. So taking a pause is equally important in these cases, too.
As I said in the beginning, I’m sure you already know about taking timeouts, but do you always follow it? Can you share your best practices or tips of following it? Maybe you can share a story when taking a pause before emotionally responding saved you from something unpleasant or really bad? Or an instance where you hadn’t, but in hindsight, you wish you had.