The Power of the Intentional Pause

Imagine this: You’re meeting with a colleague about a new project. You expect the conversation to go well because the two of you have always had a good working relationship. The conversation starts out positively and then the colleague says something that really upsets/surprises you. What do you do?

Option 1: You react emotionally, start yelling at your colleague and storm out of the room.


Option 2: You shut down, fume in silence and block out everything being said.

Which option do you choose and why? Although some people will decide to yell & leave, many will likely go silent, not address the concern and shut down. Either path results in, at a minimum, hurt feelings. And, in the extreme, a priorly healthy relationship may be severed and productivity between the two of you diminished.

In our never-ending attempt to improve working relationships and the work environment, I would like to suggest a third alternative that I call the Intentional Pause. What if, instead of utilizing either of the options above, you decide to pause and give yourself a moment to process, reflect, then later you can respond effectively? Here are the 3 quick and easy steps to the Intentional Pause:

  1. Stop the conversation temporarily. Briefly stopping the conversation allows you to buy a bit of time to regroup, calm down and proceed in a useful manner. This can be done in a number of ways which allow you to continue to be collaborative and courteous.
    1. “Excuse me. I need to step outside for a moment. When I return, I would like to address this.”
    2. “I need to refill my water bottle. I’ll be right back to continue this conversation.”
    3. “Wait. I may have misheard you. Can you please repeat that last sentence?”
  2. Seek clarity. The purpose of this step is to gain a better grasp on the situation and appreciate the “why” behind the statement. It also allows you to discover what you’re dealing with in this conversation. Did you simply misunderstand what you had been told? Are you learning something new about the situation and, if so, is this a good or bad thing? This is done by asking open-ended questions.
    1. “Did I hear you correctly when you said ______?”
    2. “Can you help me understand your rationale?”
    3. “Do you mind sharing more with me?”
  3. Determine your next step. Based on what you have learned by pausing (regrouping) and gaining more information, you now get to decide what you’re going to do moving forward.
    1. “This is all new to me. I need some time to process.”
    2. “I’m not sure we’re on the same page. Can we meet again next week?”
    3. “Wow! This gives me a new way of looking at this proposal. I’m excited! Shall we work on some new concepts together or separately?”

According to the University of Louisville’s Health Services website pausing has many benefits including allowing you time to refocus, regain balance in your nervous system as well as shift your perspective. In turn, these readjustments allow you to be the best you during an uncomfortable moment.

So, the next time you face a difficult conversation and you don’t have a lot of time to process, give the Intentional Pause a chance. Although there’s no guarantee it will solve all of your issues, it certainly will allow you an opportunity to respond more appropriately rather than react ineffectively.

For more tips & resources, please reach out to your campus Ombuds Office.

By: Melissa Connell, Ombuds Office Director, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

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