I’m trying…

  • Before I launch that snarky email…PAUSE.  (Does this really help or make situation better?)
  • Before I grab that next cookie…PAUSE.  (Really, do I need this?)
  • Before I unleash an eye for an eye response…PAUSE.  (Do I really want to clean up after this?)
  • Adrenaline rushing…I’m racing through my presentation. PAUSE.  (Let the audience reflect on what you’ve said.)

…Whenever actors, public speakers, clergy, or people in conversation, end a sentence or a phrase, they usually pause. The pause gives the listeners — the audience — time to absorb the words. But when a presenter stands up in front of an audience, the stress of the situation triggers an adrenaline rush which produces time warp that causes the presenter to speak faster and rush past the pauses…Professional actors pay as much attention to the cadence of their speech as they do to the tone of their voices; and so, when actors end their sentences, they pause to punctuate the meaning of an idea. Presenters are not actors, but their ideas do fall into logical phrases.

  • “In the weeds…micromanaging…am I trying to catch every ball?  Exhausted at the end of each day.  PAUSE.  (Is this the best use of my time?)

“…I don’t know a single executive who likes to be described as tactical, short-term oriented or as somebody who gets unnecessarily “in the weeds.” And yet, so many solid executives present, occasionally, all these behaviors, even when the situation doesn’t call for them.  Why do people who have the potential and ability to think strategically, empower others and prioritize issues seemingly choose to micromanage — to act in a way that’s myopically short-termed and dive into every problem thrown their way? The answer is that it’s not a conscious choice. No executive chooses to behave this way, just like no executive wakes up in the morning thinking “today I will really mess up and frustrate lots of people.”

Executives behave that way when they don’t allow themselves to pause and reflect about what really matters. Imagine a tennis player practicing with a ball machine that is adjusted three notches above the pace the player is able to handle. No matter how good the player is, if balls are spit at an unreasonable speed and range, the player will quickly feel exhausted, overwhelmed and defeated (feel familiar?). Only by pausing, adjusting the machine, and deciding which balls to go for, the player will obtain results and become an even better player. Just like our frustrated player, executives need to deliberately pause and reflect instead of continuously try to tackle each and every ball tossed at them.

Now imagine that the balls — or issues, challenges and opportunities thrown at us on a minute-by-minute basis — are either rubber balls or crystal balls. There are also other team members in the game. If we don’t catch all the rubber balls, they will either bounce or somebody else will catch them for us. If we don’t catch the crystal balls, they will break. The problem is that, the more exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated we are, the harder it is to distinguish the rubber balls from the crystal balls.

But in the absence of the clarity to separate the balls, all balls look alike and we will tend to try to catch all of them fearing that we might be dropping a crystal ball. Only by allowing (or forcing) ourselves to pause we can ask ourselves which balls are really crystal balls and will, therefore, break if we don’t catch them.

At a higher level, as leaders, pausing and reflecting enables us to ask what our role really is, how to more effectively empower others to be the best at the roles they are supposed to play and, therefore, what we should really get involved with. Pause and reflection create space for us and for others — everybody becomes more effective and can grow.

Pause also creates high quality energy, increasing our resilience as leaders and our ability to deal with more complex issues. There are a number of ways to pause, physically, mentally and emotionally. A pause can be created by a walk around the block, 20 minutes of meditation, exercising, immersing into a hobby, or simply a high-quality coffee break. The important point is to create time and space to empty your mind and then reflect and filter issues…”



2) HBR Blog Network: The Power of Pause


  1. I paused a little 🙂 before replying – this is a great post – thank you. Off to have a cup of tea before getting down to today’s elephants (and a few fleas of course!)



  2. Totally agree, David. Often, the best thing you can do is nothing. I wrote on the same topic last month – let me know what you think…


  3. Well done, David. At several levels.

    Ah, the pause. Probably the most liberating tool I put across to struggling presenters. Time to think ahead, and time for the audience to think too.

    Also the best way to let an Introvert get their thinking out.

    The best way to get round a negotiation deadlock.

    The best way to learn something.

    So obvious, and yet so hard to do when you are living in a Blink world.

    The day I didn’t pause was the one when I overtook a long vehicle at 60mph in the rain and he turned into my path (which I would have known if I had paused to look at his indicators). My car went most of the way underneath his trailer.

    The day I didn’t pause I booked a meal for just me and my wife in a fantastic restaurant which turned out to be closed after our 1 hour drive: I booked it at the wrong “Mason’s Arms”.

    I bet pretty well all my high impact mistakes in life boil down to not pausing.

    Cisco a few years had a theme for the year: “Get more done by slowing down”

    Have you read Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”? Could be a worthwhile read.

    Keep up the good work!


    • Hi Michael. I was about to add a line on Pausing at Red Light because I had a similar experience…interesting coincidence. I’ll have to pick up Kahneman’s book – you are the third that has recommended it to me. Thanks for sharing your insights – always thoughtful and poignant. Dave


  4. …and remember to Breathe!!


  5. Excellent post, David! There are times when hitting the PAUSE button is so important. That said, there are times when it can be quite a challenge.


  6. Just to be aware there IS a pause button, is a big step forward. Next step it to hit it. Thoughtful post, thank you, David.


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