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The Value of Taking a Pause

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"Count to ten before responding to a tough question" -- we all know this rule from our early years. It means – do not respond quickly to anything which emotionally touches you. Take a pause to let your emotions calm down and give your brain a chance to regain control. But why do many people not follow this simple rule?

It’s easier said than done. Mother Nature gave us this defensive mechanism even before humans appeared on Earth. If you see how your dog or cat responds to an unexpected event, like when something frightens them, you’ll understand why it’s so difficult for us to resist responding the same way. We’re simply hard-wired to perform this “fight or flight” response when there’s even a tiny possibility that we’re getting attacked. And the key word here is “possibility”. If we perceive an event, a phrase, anything really, written or said aloud, addressed to us or to anybody else, as offensive, we respond in an emotional and, naturally, defensive way. You can search the Internet to  learn more about the biological explanation to this phenomenon, my point is about its social (and business-related) effect.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is our brain is not consciously involved in such a response – it’s almost 100% emotionally driven. It also means that when we calm down, when are able to filter out the emotional component, we are (always!) able to find a better response – whether it be wording, tone, or any other verbal or non-verbal cue. So here goes the first sub-rule: if the request, message or news doesn’t require immediate response – do not  respond immediately! I never respond immediately to any email if it triggers an emotional response. Even just a couple of minutes allows me to think about the response and correct what could be an emotional response. The second sub-rule I have (and try to always follow) – if  time allows for it (and if my emotional response was very intense) then I need to “sleep” on my response and return to it a day later. A great example of when I've had to do this is during recent job change discussions – even when I received all the answers during a phone-call I took a one-night pause to think it over once again. An answer which is well considered, all-around over time, is the one you sub-consciously adhere to.

It's also important to apply these rules to any emotionally “spiced” reactions, not just negative. There have been cases when I was very positive about news I just received, an opportunity or an idea, and I supported it using my feelings, not my intelligence. It may not be as destructive as a defensive response but the results may last even longer. For example, when I take part in negotiations with customers or government officials (and I do a lot of both) – an idea suggested by another party may seem super beneficial at first glance, but a thorough thought plus consulting other Intel stakeholders protects me from making commitments which would be very difficult to keep otherwise. So taking a pause is equally important in these cases, too.

As I said in the beginning, I’m sure you already know about taking timeouts, but do you always follow it? Can you share your best practices or tips of following it? Maybe you can share a story when taking a pause before emotionally responding saved you from something unpleasant or really bad? Or an instance where you hadn’t, but in hindsight, you wish you had.

About the Author
Vladimir was born in 1977 in Zhukovsky, near Moscow, graduated from Moscow Aviation Institute receiving Master’s degree in Computers in 2000. He started his career in IT in 1991 as a assistant in the compute lab of Tupolev Aircraft Design Bureau. Before joining Intel in 2003 Vladimir held several IT jobs in different companies (ranging from Education to Investment Banking verticals), beginning as a programmer and reaching Deputy Head of IT and Project Manager positions. At Intel he started as IT Construction Project Manager, supporting Intel R&D growth in Russia then transitioned to Site IT Manager for 3 biggest Russian sites in Nizhny Novgorod, Sarov and Moscow, then he joined IT@Intel Program, supporting European Enterprise sales team & Marketing . For over 4 years, from 2007 till 2012, Vladimir was working as General Manager for Intel branch in Nizhny Novgorod. He was responsible for running the operations of the oldest and biggest Intel site in Russia, supporting its continued growth. Since 2012 Vladimir is working as the Risk & Controls Program Manager for Greater Europe Region. Vladimir’s hobbies include teaching (he delivers over 150 hours of trainings at Intel annually), motor sports (rally racing), rollerblading and reading modern literature & classics.