The unexpected significance of pause ⌛️
I've been rediscovering the meaning of pause in life for a few years now. It's a multifaceted journey from which I have a couple of examples to share.
The many faces of pause 🥸
Pausing after saying something significant to let things sink in and give time to your audience to process what you've just said.
Sitting down with a challenge you face instead of responding immediately with a default solution. That's to yourself or your team (more below).
Knowing when to pause when saying sorry (more below).
Taking a short break when in conflict to regroup emotionally without trying to nail it in the very minute to avoid discomfort.
Learning to sit with (your own or your group's) discomfort after, for instance, asking a challenging question so the other party can take ownership and respond.
Increasing the time between answering to respond instead of reacting.
Counter-intuitively stopping work to rethink and regroup instead of contributing to a feature factory or leaving many things on hold (more below).
Taking a rest while at work, instead of after.
Let's put a spotlight on a few of them.
Avoiding the default 🧐
The more we know, the easier it is to respond immediately with an answer. This is a double-ended sword. The benefits are apparent - quick problem-solving pushes things forward. What about the drawbacks?
In a complex world, no two problems are the same. We might see the same pattern, yet the environment and context differ. Defaulting to what we know from other organisations can do some damage when we simplify the problem and put everything we see into the same basket through one or many “cognitive distortions”.
We then lose the edge and effectiveness of our work:
targeting wrong needs,
acting as a know-it-all.
Perhaps most importantly, we are losing a chance to learn something new and expand our knowledge.
Next time you want to give a quick answer, take a pause and think:
What are the things that are different this time?
How else could I approach this problem?
Knowing when to say sorry 😬
This one is a doozy. Usually, we tend to apologise as quickly as possible for something we’ve done. This approach should not always be the case. Let me (or Frank, for that matter) explain:
“When the offence is unintentional or impersonal, if you wait too long, even more than a few seconds, an apology will seem insincere. You should tap your automatic system 1 response: there is no need to observe or orient or deliberate. In these circumstances, you should say you are sorry right away. In other situations, a snap apology can be less effective or even disingenuous; it might even suggest panic or fear.”
Giving yourself time in some context will look better and, more importantly, give you more time to digest what happened and think about what changes you need to make. You often won’t get to the gist if you don’t spend some time on it.
By the way, did you know you can also apologise and continue disagreeing with somebody?
The productivity of doing nothing
I’ve seen my fair share of “headless chicken” events in companies - running around doing something whether it makes sense or not. This paradox is quite engrained in us and named “action bias”:
“[A] psychological phenomenon where people tend to favor action over inaction, even when there is no indication that doing so would point towards a better result. It is an automatic response, similar to a reflex or an impulse and is not based on rational thinking.” - Wikipedia
It’s hard to focus people’s attention on reflection in tense situations where it seems illogical to stop as most feel the “ship will crash”. Some things worth trying:
Provide a quick solution to a problem you noticed.
👉🏼 Example: I once created a simple spreadsheet for the Customer Service department to help them direct queries to people with the most knowledge in a particular subject in the company instead of randomly assigning them. This way, they saved a lot of time, and, as a side effect, it brought more attention to pausing and thinking.
Show data and suggest direction.
👉🏼 Example: Analyse what is happening and suggest the subsequent immediate actions and possible approximated outcome. Show data, be concrete and describe how you will know it worked.
Work on expanding the time you learn about something and take action, especially when things get emotional.
👉🏼 Example: Through individual practice of meditation or, in a team setting, a practice where each member, in a previously agreed way, can stop the discussion when it’s spiralling so everyone can pause and reflect.
This article was longer than I expected, yet I hope you found some value and it poked your brain a bit. Let me know in the comments what are the other ways you experience the benefits of taking a pause.
🎈Share this post if you think it can help others reflect on the significance of pause.