Have you ever pictured words coming out of your mouth, and seeing them in their true light for the first time you wish you could grab them and stuff them back where they came from, before they find themselves to anyone else?
We had a bit of an experience with that this past weekend. We were out for a family dinner celebrating the life of a favourite aunt who had passed a week or so before, finally free from the ravages of cancer.
At one point the discussion turned to an ex-partner of the aunt that she ended up leaving because he didn’t treat her that well. One of the party reacted with our aunt’s final nickname for the man that wasn’t complimentary.
As the words came out you could see the attempt to grab them before they manifested themselves and smother them out of existence. We know this isn’t possible so they landed with impact amongst the family, which triggered a reaction from another member of the group. So at the end of an otherwise nice evening, we left the restaurant with fewer good tidings than we would have liked.
Reactions are like that. They are intended to maintain the status quo. Sometimes a fast reaction saves the day. When we drop something breakable, fast reflexes allow us to catch the object before it hits the floor. Grabbing our child before they step off the curb can avert disaster. Words aren’t always like that, and there often isn’t that lightning fast need for them to leave us. But often they are on their way to quickly.
What if “think fast” meant that our mind raced ahead of the reaction to insert a pause in advance of the flow of words? What would we use that pause to do? Would we filter the words that were about to come out through questions such as:
- Is that true for me?
- What’ is really happening here?
- Is this something that concerns me?
- Does that truly express what I believe?
Then after asking ourselves these questions (you would be amazed how fast you can process these questions!) what would happen next if we simply quashed the reaction and replaced it with a well-considered response?
By this definition, this means that a response would be less concerned with the status quo, and more open to possibility. It becomes an opportunity to ask questions instead of assert opinions, to invite others participation in the discussion and to collaborate on outcomes. Just writing those words I feel more at ease and imbued with positive intent!
As leaders, there are so many opportunities to react. Our days are busy, people ask for help, problems appear at inconvenient times, customers needs something, etc. We can either allow our innate skills to jump into “fix it” mode, blurt out instructions, react such that others worry, and many other types of reactions.
Or we can pause … and we can ask ourselves filter questions. At work these might be:
- Is that true for me?
- What’s really happening here?
- Is this our item to address?
- How can I help?
- What is needed from me?
The first three questions again really help us quell reactions and put ourselves in a position to respond thoughtfully to a situation. By doing so we offer stability, calm, wisdom, and confidence that any issue can be addressed.
I think the last two questions are really important leadership questions. They are really designed to cause us to create and hold and environment of coaching and mentorship. A space where individuals feel comfortable coming to solve their own problems. One where our experience and wisdom is offered in the form of questions and encouragement for others to explore their own knowledge, skills and experience and therefore grow as a result.
My challenge to myself for 2013 has been to ask more questions. And the only way I can do that is to think fast! Both to interrupt reactions so I can create an environment to explore possibilities, but also to be present in each conversation so I can ask good questions to bring these possibilities to the forefront.
How about you? What are your thoughts on reacting vs. responding? How does this concept manifest in your life?