Hit the Pause Button

Remember your mother counting to ten before she handed out punishment when you were being naughty? “I’m going to count to ten, young lady, and by the time I finish counting, you should have all of your toys put away”. Seems there is some rationale for this – both for the child to complete the task, but also for mom to pause and calm down a bit to reassess her reaction. (Leaders everywhere can thank their mothers for being a great role model for hitting the pause button).

The data on pausing our emotional response and thinking it through rationally cancels out the impression that we have no control over our reactions. Mom was right. Leading scientists believe that we have more control than we thought.

New technologies that are imaging the brain in “real time” are shedding light on the importance of pausing to consider an emotional reaction. These studies are allowing neuroscientists to chart areas of the brain in ways that may show us how to deal with our emotions in a more productive way in the workplace.

And, since a leader can set the emotional tone of the workplace, the implications of all of this research could be astonishing for leadership.

Studies suggest that the more aware we are of our moods and emotions, the more active our prefrontal lobe becomes. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for rational thinking. Pausing to allow a potentially out of control reaction to reach the preforontal lobe in the brain may permit a leader to express more reasoned response.

This means that by being aware and intentional of our moods and emotions, rather than allowing knee-jerk reactions, a leader can be more thoughtful and consider how to respond in a way that serves him and others in his organization best.

So hit the pause button in order to be intentional about a situation that may cause you to react irrationally. How? Some suggestions as follows.

Consider the last time your emotions got away from you and you reacted in a way that didn’t serve you or your organization best:

  • What was the trigger that set you off?
  • What was the emotion that was expressed? What was the emotional trigger behind the emotion? (hint: the trigger may not be the same as the emotion was expressed. Fear may be expressed as anger)?
  • Where did you feel that emotion (may be anywhere in the body. There is a reason we use the term “gut reaction” for example)?
  • How did you really want to react to the situation?

Following this post-mortem, you can start asking these questions in real time as you feel your emotions getting the better of you, before you react. With practice and a few deep breaths, you may be able to hit the pause button and become more intentional about your reactions.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.