Communicate Better with the Power of the Pause


If you’re like most people, when you’re engaged in a conversation—especially one that’s causing stress—you probably can’t wait to jump in and say what’s on your mind. What the other person is saying might prompt the next ten things you want to say, or trigger an emotional reaction in you, and words fly out of your mouth before you’ve even given them consideration.

When this is how you engage, you’re probably not listening to the other person very closely, and you may not be putting your best foot forward. Or worse—you might say something you’ll kick yourself for later, especially if you’re in conflict (like in an argument) or under pressure (like in a job interview).

What would happen in these situations if you slowed down and took a deliberate pause before speaking?

Likely you’d be more thoughtful in your words, and you’d foster a better connection with the person you’re talking to. That’s the power of the pause.

The act of pausing is simple. When it’s your turn to speak and you find your mind racing, take a moment to think before responding. You can even name it by saying, “I just want to pause for a moment and think about this.” Then, take a few breaths and check in with yourself.

Here are a few productive ways to check in with yourself during the pause that will help you communicate more effectively with others.

Consider Your Response

We all learn the hard way that you can’t unsay something you’ve said. I’ve certainly found myself blurting things out during conflict that I immediately regretted (hello fights with my family!). But once you’ve let that speech balloon go, it floats out of your reach and you can never get it back.

When you invoke the pause, you’re more in control, even when you’re emotionally activated.

First reflect on what you’re responding to. You can ask yourself, “Is my immediate interpretation of this person’s words correct? Or is there more going on?” This is an aspect of mindful listening, where we consider the myriad factors that could be influencing a person’s words, including their emotions, their environment, and more.

Then you can reflect on what your gut is telling you to say. Is this something you want to say in the moment, save for later, or never say at all? What words might better serve you in the moment?

Turn on Your Authenticity Radar

The Seven Behavioral Dimensions are a practical way to check in with how authentic you’re being in any given moment—and three of these dimensions reflect conversation: the words we use when we speak, how we speak (our volume, tone of voice, and more), and the content we share.

Often, especially under stress, we’re triggered to perform—that is, to mask or hide how our authentic self wants to behave be because we fear others’ judgments.

But when we take a pause, we have the power to catch ourselves in a moment of performing before we say something that doesn’t match our true selves. Then we can choose whether to be fully authentic or adaptive in what we say.

During your pause, consider whether what you’re about to say is in alignment with your authentic self. If how you speak or the content you share is one of your “must-do” areas for being authentic, this will be an especially important check-in for you.

Pay Attention to What Your Body is Saying

Our emotions greatly influence what’s happening in the body, and we can use these bodily sensations as a guidepost for how we’re feeling in any given moment.

When you pause, tune in to your body, and ask yourself what it’s telling you about your emotions. Is your stomach in a knot? Are your shoulders up by your ears? Are you taking short, shallow breaths in your upper chest? Is your heart racing? These signs, and others, will tell when your body is in fight, flight, or freeze—if it is, you’re likely to be emotionally reactive to your situation.

Fortunately, when you catch yourself in this state using mindfulness, you can bring yourself back down to a grounded state and have a more thoughtfully considered response. Taking a few deep belly breaths is a good way to calm your body, gain control of your mind, and mindfully consider what to say.

Do Some Self-Coaching

Sometimes we know what we want to say back to someone, but we’re afraid to say it.

This can happen in many situations—for example, if you want to share your opinion at work, but suffer from self-limiting beliefs that cause you to self-censor. Or if you want to share your true feelings with your partner, but deep down you fear that you don’t deserve to have your needs met.

When you catch yourself in these moments, ask yourself what it is you’re afraid of. Then you can use your pause to self-coach in the form of positive affirmations. Tell yourself encouraging words like, “You can do this! You’ve worked here for two years, you have good ideas, and you’re worthy of sharing them.” Or, “My feelings are valid, and I deserve to feel heard in this moment.”

If you plan your words of affirmation in advance, even better. They’ll be ready for you in difficult situations.

Practicing the Pause

Like all forms of mindfulness, the more often you practice the pause, the better you’ll get at using it to improve how you communicate with others, and in turn, how you feel about yourself.

Next time you’re in a heated situation—whether it’s a job interview, a team meeting, an argument, or an emotionally charged conversation—how will you use the power of the pause to guide you?

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