Pause. Reflect. Choose. Three words packed with potential. It’s my contention that when coaching executives to pause, reflect and choose, you’re not teaching them anything new. You’re bringing previously active and now-dormant knowledge back into the crisp light of consciousness.

It may seem counter-intuitive but when the pressure is on and you need to do some fast decision making, your first step should be to pause. Phrases like, “Can you say a bit more about that so I know I’ve understood it properly?” or simply paraphrasing the question you’ve just been asked to check if that’s what was meant, buys you precious time to weigh up the specifics of the particular issue. They help build equally precious affiliative links with the person in front of you, enabling them to feel valued and appreciated.

Pausing also helps you block your habitualised responses, which have now collectively become your internal saboteur.

Step two, reflecting, gives you time and space to decide how to acknowledge the individual and the situation. Does the individual or situation need some form of reparative intervention to clarify an earlier misunderstanding? Do you need a little extra recovery time to process a surprising development so that you don’t make a crisis worse or is a simple directive needed to support the individual and manage the situation? Reflecting, in other words, is an active process of weighing up alternatives.

Now for the third step: choose. Does the individual need to be actively engaged with to get through the difficult predicament? Does he or she need background support for what they wish to do, or do they need to be deterred from a potentially counter-productive course of action?

Once you’ve chosen and enacted your decision, step back and observe its impact. The building of affiliative links, the sense of mutual understanding and enactment of a mutually constructed choice of action can rapidly transform vicious communication circles into virtuous ones.

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