Interrupt Your Emotional Reactions: Pause…

One of my very favorite authors, Viktor Frankl said: 

Between stimulus (trigger) and response there is a space. In that space is where we have the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

This quote means everything in business leadership. The space between stimulus and our response is the space I call self-leadership—and it is a journey of greater awareness, confidence and growth. It is the place where you get to make a conscious choice in how to best respond to a stressful situation. 

The space between stimulus and our response - Self-leadership - Interrupt Your Emotional Reactions: Pause…Leading Edge Teams

As you read this blog, think of a time that triggered an emotional reaction in you—and one that if you could, you would definitely like a do-over. Learning to PAUSE delays you from reacting without thinking, helping you to avoid such times. 

Most of us have plenty of examples of hard-wired knee-jerk reactions we’d like to forget—the ones produced in the amygdala part of our brain, the primitive safety response of automatic fight-or-flight-or-freeze. As humans, especially in business, we all need to learn to respond constructively. One way is by learning to resist our naturally hard-wired emotional reactions that are caught up in self-protective behaviors. And the PAUSE is our first line of defense to help us avoid our more outlandish or erratic reactions that come in a multitude of forms… 

(Click here to gain awareness about your own self-protective behaviors.)

Use a PAUSE to Help You Collect Your Thoughts and Stay Composed 

Try it! PAUSE… when your mind is racing, the pause allows you to take a breath and clarify your words. it boosts your credibility and confidence, in a conversation, during a meeting, and when you give a presentation to a group. I guarantee, when you make it a habit, its purpose and power becomes an appreciated, much-used tool.  

PAUSE… to think through your words and actions! This prevents reactive emotions from driving what you say when you feel heated, and it calms the emotions that could unknowingly erupt on your face (e.g. fear, confusion, frustration, anger, etc.). Humans need space to PAUSE. 

Learn more about teamwork. In business, there’s no way around it, you work with other people. As you grow as a self-leader in business, it’s vital to gain skills that help you improve interactions with other people, with your team, and customers or clients. I guarantee, the PAUSE helps to keep yourself in check as you strive to build a trusted leadership reputation. It helps you make the business impact you want. Ultimately, this simple tool helps you display consistent words and actions. Over time, the PAUSE is a small thing that’s really a big thing! 

PAUSE… and break the cycle of emotional reactions that you regret 

Let me suggest a way you can think about self-protective emotional reactions. Try to remember this is a somewhat quirky metaphor. Imagine for a minute that you have a protective, reactive skunk inside you—imagine others do too. When I was younger, and whenever my “skunk” got easily spooked/triggered, I would spray my reactive behaviors and words on everyone around me. 

Commonly, my self-protective skunk spray showed up to others as blaming them, outward defensiveness and anger, and then I would revert to avoiding and pleasing, which is a less obvious, quieter form of self-protection, and just as damaging to connections with others. When I sprayed all those behaviors, they smelled so bad to everyone around me, but I couldn’t smell my own behaviors at all. For most of us they are learned behaviors from a young age, so we hardly notice. Think about it, skunk spray doesn’t just go away, it’s hard to get rid of the smell; it doesn’t clean up easily.It’s smelly, sticky and icky! So… if you could avoid negatively impacting others like this, of course you would! 

Self-protective skunk spray showing up to others as blaming them, outward defensiveness and anger - Leading Edge Teams - Pause…

So my point… leaders need to learn not to spray! What that means, is when you feel the urge to spray reactive, emotional words everywhere… instead you choose to PAUSE. You might even slip with an “Oh s***… My team won’t overcome this easily if I blow off steam.” 

And that’s a fact!  

You might be thinking, “Who me?” Yes, you! And me too… All of us can be emotionally reactive at times. At a glance, to name a few, are any of these your “go to”  reactive behaviors? Blame, judge, criticize, hide, deny, defend, justify, avoid, resist, get angry. If not, what is?  

Whether your emotional reaction is quiet or loud, all self-protective (emotionally reactive) behaviors are destructive to business relationships. As humans, when any of us fall into these behaviors, we’re caught up in fight-or flight-or freeze, and seldom think about how we impact other people. I hate to admit it today, but I’ve been known to say to myself, Why don’t they just get over it? I just had a moment; I just needed to blow off some steam! 

How often do you think of the impact you have on others? With lots of balls in the air, entrepreneurs and business leaders typically don’t think about their impact on other people. Unless you're a solopreneur, you do need to think about how you interact with other people. It’s not just for some people, or some positions, it’s for everyone. Every day, you are free to choose the impact you want to have— and you have a responsibility to learn how to make that happen. 

There’s always room for growth and all of us at Leading Edge Teams are here to help.  

Does it feel awkward to pause? A few more ways you can think about the PAUSE… 

  • A PAUSE can range from a few seconds to actually saying “Can I get back to you in an hour, or tomorrow?
  • To help create an effective PAUSE for a few seconds, look around the room, and ask yourself a question in your mind, any question, like What is the weather outside? The process of asking a question not only ticks seconds away, but it brings blood back into your prefrontal cortex, which is the location of rational decision-making. This creates space to rein in an emotionally reactive behavior to a manageable level where you can work with it.
  • Remember, cultural norms vary about the PAUSE in speech. Business clients in other countries sometimes see Americans as too wordy, presumptuous and aggressive. Alternately, Americans may tend to see those with fewer expressions through words as suspicious, unfriendly, or not forthcoming. As Americans, many have a tendency to fill  the silence with words. 
  • Interestingly, some countries consider a PAUSE to be a sign of respect and it offers space and opportunity to communicate without words. Together, people silently reflect and think.
  • Speakers who present in front of a live audience know that a few seconds PAUSE periodically gets people to focus and listen more intently. They are engaged. It is immediately effective to get renewed interest and attention. And speakers then catch up with their own thoughts. 
  • Sales professionals know the value of a PAUSE after the pitch… It gives space and time to listen to the customer; likewise, doctors find it strengthens communications to PAUSE a few seconds after a patient stops talking. They focus attention back on the doctor and are ready to listen.  

Put the PAUSE into play today! And I suggest that you personalize the opening quote, because it is in your thought-out response that you will experience growth and freedom.

You can do it!

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2 thoughts on “Interrupt Your Emotional Reactions: Pause…”

  1. Such an important topic! It’s timely for me as I begin to step into more visable leadership roles. Thank you for the powerful response of a pause.

  2. Excellent reminder of the power of the pause and how it can help to change the course of conversation from emotionally reactive to positively productive.

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