Power of the Pause – Tools for Conflict Resolution

The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause              MARK TWAIN


The Power of the Pause - Tools for Conflict Resolution

Recalibrating Conflict Dynamics

The Power of the Pause – Tools for Conflict Resolution. A good friend recently relayed to me a story about a meeting that started off on a wrong footing and ended with the client storming off. Listening to the story it was clear that the client was in the wrong. The story made me wonder though about whether there was something my friend could have done to avert the ensuing situation from taking place.

Our first response to a verbal assault – whether valid or not – is normally to counter-respond with a heightened tone. This is normally followed by aggressive “in your face” body language. One may possibly even  shoot off one’s own a verbal barrage in self-defence of what has just been said. 

The value of the momentary pause between hearing an attack and reacting to it should never be under-estimated.  A momentary pause gives one an opportunity to take control of oneself in the situation.  A pause of silence also give the other person the space to think about what they have just said. This may cause them to either retract, soften their words or explain themselves further.

By engaging in the pause, a person gives themselves the power to choose to either step into or away from the issues in conflict.  Not every verbal assault or harsh and pointed comment needs or should be dignified with a response.  But, every person should be given the opportunity to clarify what they are saying and where they are coming from. It is at this juncture that the power of the pause comes into play. A simple pause followed by a request for clarity of what was just said, such as (pause)… “I beg your pardon?” or (pause) …”please could you explain what you are saying”  is often the mercy moment which ends what could have become an unfortunate and avoidable breakdown of relations.

This begs the question as to what a person is supposed to do when confronted with a high conflict  situation and a hostile person on the other side ? 

The answer is not a simple one. It is however worth having regard to some of the following:

  • Pause … and try to understand where that person is coming from. Its a quick judgement call that you need to make, but its worth trying to quickly assess what the  possible “triggers” were for that outburst.
  • Pause …. Don’t immediately judge the situation or the person.
  • Pause … Remain calm. By reacting quickly you will move into “Fight or Flight” mode as opposed to allowing your logical brain to function optimally.
  • Pause … Stand back. Maintain your control – if someone else is being unreasonable it doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit.
  • Pause…. and Slow Down.
  • Pause… Think. Ask questions.

At the end of the day it is all about choice –  you hold the power to choose to either step into or away from the issue in conflict. 

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