The Pause: not just for dramatic effect anymore

Every once in a while, I have to have difficult conversations at work.  Sometimes, things don’t turn out the way I thought they would and I have to tell someone.

Maybe it’s a candidate who is not going to get an interview or maybe it’s my boss.  Maybe I have to tell him that I did not get the big order.

I used to use the “blurt and run” method for these instances.  You know: get the person’s attention, do a fast information dump and then go do something else, fast.

One of the things that I learned when I took a stand up comedy course was to deliberately pause between jokes.  If you don’t pause, you will be well into the next bit while the audience is still laughing at the first bit.  That throws off the timing for the rest of the routine.  If the listener misses the first half of the joke, how can they possibly be expected to laugh at the end?

Recently, I discovered that this same concept can be used in difficult situations too.  When delivering unexpected news, it makes sense to pause between explaining the problem and the solutions that I want to propose.  How can I expect someone to start evaluating the possible fixes, if they have not yet processed the problem?

Here’s what I do now:  sit down first and plan out my part of the conversation.  I want to describe the problem and a bit of the background of how it got to be a problem.  Not too much, just enough to provide context.  Then, I want to lay a few possible solutions.

I take a deep breath and I connect with the person.  I lay out the problem and then wait for a moment.  My inclination is to race on to describe how I am going to fix it but I stop and hold my breath for a bit.  When it seems like the news has sunk in, I launch in to the rest.

Maybe it’s a more mature approach or maybe it’s just a more controlled approach.  Whatever it is, it’s working for me.

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