5 Reasons to Take a Breath Before Responding

I’ve been reminded of a very valuable lesson in my current role.  It seems so easy when you think about it, but in observation, few people seem to practice it.

Every day (for the great majority of us) we communicate with others. 

In communicating, there are a number of elements involved in order to be successful.  For example, you need to listen, use proper tone, and use the right words to clearly convey your message.  While these elements (and others) are all important, I want to focus in on one today:  “taking a breath”.

What am I talking about?  Taking a proverbial breath amounts to nothing more than pausing before you respond to someone.

Why is this important?  Taking a breath will:

  • Ensure you heard the whole message.  If you respond to someone without taking a breath, chances are that your mind was formulating your response while they were talking, which means you may not have heard their full message.
  • Formulate a better response.  By understanding the full message and giving yourself a moment to think, your response will likely be more thoughtful, clear, and pertinent, which in turn will be more readily accepted, which will lead to a better overall conversation.
  • Help you not say stupid things.  Pausing to formulate a better response keeps you from filling the empty space with rambling or stupid comments.  Don’t say dumb things.
  • Demonstrate maturity.  Having a thoughtful response and not saying dumb things helps others see you as a more mature communicator and thinker.  It also demonstrates respect to the person that you are communicating with in showing that you are really giving thought and consideration to your response.
  • Calm you down.  Pausing and taking a real breath will help you physiologically.  Taking a breath introduces oxygen in to your body and brain, which will help you stay calm and improve your thinking processes.

The interesting thing about this ‘proverbial breath’ is that it applies not only to face to face verbal communications, but to just about any form of communications.

Email is a good example.  While it definitely depends on the situation, email is generally not an urgent form of communication.

So, why is it that people feel the need to respond urgently to an email?  This is a topic that we could spend an entire blog series on, but for the purpose of this post we’ll say that you can apply the same “breath” here.   Take the time to think through your response.  It may be that your “pause” lasts several hours and you don’t respond until the next business day.  Be thoughtful and avoid the urge to always reply immediatley. 

Now, if you are worried about the “sun down rule” you can always respond with an acknowledgement of their communication followed by expectation setting.  Example, “Thank you for your email.  I will get back with you on this tomorrow.”

Two bonus points –

If you’ve paused, thought and still don’t know what to say, don’t be afraid to say, “Let me think about that and get back with you.” Or “Let me take that back and look in to it.” Or some variation thereof.  This gives you additional time to formulate a proper, educated response, which is usually appreciated more than an immediate half-formulated, somewhat coherent answer.

If your communication is heated or emotionally charged, don’t respond until you’ve calmed down.  If you’re face to face, try to separate from the situation as politely as possible.  If you’re on email, don’t respond.  This is a really good time to “sleep on it” or talk with someone first to gain perspective.  Nothing good comes from emotionally charged responses that perpetuate a situation.

Granted, there are exceptions to all of the above concepts, but as rules of thumb, they’re pretty solid.

Learning to take a breath before responding will definitely help you as a leader and will improve people’s perception of you as a leader.

What stories or examples do you have of “taking a breath” or “not taking a breath”?

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Inspire With Why

People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.

In my down time, I really enjoy listening to people that inspire me with intriguing ideas.  TED.com is one of those places where I can always seem to find great inspiring content.

The other night, I came across a presentation by Simon Sinek (author, educator) titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  I found his comments to not only be logical and profound, but applicable to inspiring any audience (e.g., direct reports, team members, customers, etc.).

Sinek believes that if you explain and share why you do something, there is greater loyalty, buy-in, and inspiration as compared to simply communicating what you do.

My favorite statement in the presentation was, “There are leaders and there are those that lead.  Leaders hold a position of power and authority, but those that lead inspire us……we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to.”

The video is 18 minutes long.  I encourage you to listen to the entire presentation as he does a great job communicating his message.  I believe it will change the way that you think about communicating as a leader.

It did for me.

Creating Beautiful Music

I have this wonderful vision in my head.

I have this dream that my teams will function like a masterful orchestra that creates beautiful music and achieves brilliant success.

In order to get there though, they need something.  They need something from me.

Every great orchestra takes it’s cue from their conductor.  In the case of the team, they take their cue from their leader.  This is me.  This is you.

What is it though that they need from you and I to create beautiful music?

As I was perusing some of the TED videos, I came across one that intrigued me.  And struck a chord as to how great conductors lead.

Watch this amazing video from TED and I’ll catch up with you afterwards to share my observations and thoughts.

To start, I found this video to be intriguing.  Did you catch the leadership lessons?

The guy that brought us “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” marvelously displays how great leaders lead. [Actually, Bobby McFerrin is a genius of a guy if you ever listen to him talk.]

Here are 5 leadership lessons I observed:

  • Great leaders demonstrate the behavior or action that they want from their team. Did you notice how he started out simply by showing us what he wanted on the first note?  The team (audience) quickly picked it up because he was clear (even without using words) as to what he wanted them to do.  Once they picked it up, he moved on to the next note (lesson).  How often do you demonstrate desired behavior or lessons for your team?
  • Great leaders reinforce desired behavior. Did you notice how (even within a minute) he reinforced their understanding of the note by having them demonstrate and practice it over and over again.  Sometimes he would let them sing it alone and sometimes he would reinforce the note by singing it with them.  How often do you reinforce desired behavior when developing an employee?
  • Great leaders ‘let go’ and trust. Did you notice that he stopped instructing and singing and let them sing the notes?  He trusted that they would follow his lead, which they did because of the foundation of the first two points.  They also developed a reciprocal trust in him and his leadership.  How often do you ‘let go’ and trust that your team will do what what you have taught or instructed them to do?
  • Great leaders help their team understand the bigger picture. Did you notice that after they had established trust in each other and they were doing what he expected, he chimed in with his own melody over the top of what they were singing?  To me this was a great audible example of displaying how their part worked with the greater whole.  This gives meaning and purpose to those things that we ask our teams to do.  How important is it for your team to understand how what they do contributes to the greater whole?
  • Great leaders stretch their teams. Did you notice that once his team was comfortable with what they knew and trust was established, he started to stretch them in to the unknown?  In fact he stretched them down the scale beyond their learned limits and then back up the scale above their learned limits.  They did more than they probably ever thought would be possible.  How often do you stretch your teams to new heights?  To do the improbable?  The impossible?

The result?  Beautiful music.

Enjoy!

~Jason

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