The Power of the Pause

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

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 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.

 

The Role of the Pause

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 request for clarity of what was just said, such as  ” I beg your pardon …?” or ” 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.

 

Using the Pause in High Conflict Situations

In the mediation context, emotions always run high.  The Mediator as an impartial third party facilitator, must at all times avoid engaging in any verbal sparring with a client who vents against the Mediator. A Mediator who willingly enters into the arena created by the client, shows among other things a serious loss of personal control and brings into disrepute both their impartiality and ability to control the process.

This begs the question as to what a Mediator is supposed to do when a party tries to pull the Mediator into their dispute ?

The answer is not a simple one and regard would need to be had to a number of factors at play. From the writer’s perspective, it is however worth a Mediator’s while to have regard to some of the following :-

Understand where the Party/Parties are coming from – in other words remember that they are at Mediation because they have been unable to resolve their dispute.

Be alert to the fact that conflict generates heightened emotional and physiological responses in most people, including a Mediator, and that most people when faced with a tense conflictual situation react out of character. In other words don’t judge, maintain a personal distance and self-control – its not about you, its about the problem.

Disengage psychologically from the conflict.

Pause, think, re-frame, ask questions.

Remain diplomatic.

Remind the Parties about the rules of conduct discussed in the Mediator’s Opening Statement and the reason for such rules of conduct,  then leave it up to the Parties  to decide whether they wish to adhere to those rules and continue with the mediation, or terminate the process.

At the end of the day it is all about choice – Parties’ choice and Mediator’s choice. So stop, consider the power of the pause, disengage and then decide on how you would like the situation to play itself out.

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