I think most people have seen the reality television show “Cops”, which films police in various cities as they deal with events from mundane to serious. I’m not a regular viewer but I see the show occasionally if I’m channel surfing on the weekend. One thing I find interesting about this show is watching people make clearly bad decisions when they are in trouble. They usually react instantly and make poor choices with significant consequences.
In conflict, danger or even a precieved threat, our first instinct is often immediate reaction. Fight or flight. These are primitive survival instincts that are still with us and used daily, often due to things that are far from life threatening.
Where communication is involved, I’d like to suggest another “tool” to use when a possible threat appears or is perceived. The Pause.
Pause and consider your options before you respond. Process what you heard. Consider the perspective of the threat. Some perceived threats are not really threats, they are just incorrectly (and quickly) assumed to be a threat. A fast response to something that was incorrectly understood can just make matters worse.
I want to be clear, I am not recommending inaction as a default response. Quite the contrary. The Pause is very active… in your head. It has to be active. Your brain has to intercept fight-or-flight, consider the options and then (and only then) create an appropriate (hopefully) response.
Are there times where an immediate response is necessary? Sure. But those are best reserved for situations that are known, understood and for which that response was perhaps even pre-prepared. That is, the response is to something expected or predicted, not just an immediate response to a surprise or shock.
The Pause also gives you time to be sure you are responding with thought and not just pure emotion. How you feel is important but should not be the only response you provide. At least if you wish to be seen as credible.
Years ago I read a story about a paramedic. The man had been a medic in Vietnam and then worked for a municipal fire department. When the alarm sounded in the station and others were running, he walked. At the scene, colleagues scrambled and pushed. He walked. When tending to patients, he was often that one that would talk through an issue or stop someone that was quickly reacting instead of really thinking.
More than once, his attention to the situation and consideration of actions saved patients’ lives. He would often say, “The fastest way to do something is to do it right.” I have adopted this phrase and for years I have repeated it to our staff and to clients. It has become a mantra.
The next time you feel pressure to respond, be sure you consider your response. If unsure, a short pause might be appropriate and actually save you time, money or grief later.