Find critical communication value in ‘power of the pause’

  • Published
  • By Wendy M. Larson, Inspector General
  • 88th Air Base Wing

 WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Productivity metrics. Timelines. Twenty-four-hour news cycles. Next-Day delivery.

Our current culture rewards speed and productivity. It is so easy to be seduced and tempted by the “more is great” and “faster is better” mantra. However, in some career fields, there is a saying: Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

It highlights the belief that sometimes you have to slow down to actually go faster – in order to ensure you don’t skip critical steps in a process. It seems counterintuitive, yet there is something magical about the “power of the pause.”

Let’s look at its utility when used as a communication tool.

Although society has dramatically changed in terms of information sharing (types, frequency, expectations, availability), the basic structure of our brains hasn’t changed. The areas responsible for “fight or flight” activities still must coordinate with areas responsible for decision making.

In terms of our communication and how we interact with others – leaders and followers – here are three specific examples when “power of the pause” can be very beneficial:

  • React vs respond. Most people are familiar with the need for a pause button after sending a scathing email in the heat of the moment. They needed the PAUSE button to allow the rational brain to assist the emotional brain with some problem solving and organization. Although we don’t experience the same threats as our ancestors, the emotional brain is still wired to react to perceived threats. It’s much faster than the rational brain – so we need a pause button. The “pause” creates that space – the fertile void – to germinate an appropriate response instead of an emotional reaction.
  • Deliberate white space. Some cultures value “thinking time.” Some Eastern cultures are quite comfortable being silent, considering it time well spent in reflection or planning. Most of American culture finds extended silence “awkward.” In fact, it’s actually a technique taught in investigations courses. If a subject isn’t very talkative, introduce the silent pause. They have this need to fill the void – and they talk. However, consider creating deliberate white space (i.e., pressing the pause button) to check in with yourself for a self-conducted “feedback” session. Whether it is for a specific topic, or a general time for reflection, the time spent can produce a significant return on investment.
  • Choice vs default. We are creatures of habit. We like patterns, routines and predictability. There is goodness in all of this. Our internal thought processes – our self-talk – are really habits as well. Very well-rehearsed, predictable habits on autopilot. So what happens if this internal dialogue isn’t serving us well? Or worse, is it actually harming those you serve? Without the pause button, you are on autopilot, without a disciplined approach to consider the situation or other possible thoughts. If left unchecked, default negative thoughts steal that freedom of choice.

These are just three examples of potential value in “power of the pause.” These examples aren’t limited to a work environment. Communication with anyone – at work, at home, in school – will improve.

Such a simple, no-cost technique is available for everyone to use. So remember: Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Practice the “power of the pause.”