What was the scariest moment of being an entrepreneur in my early days?
There are certainly a lot of memories that compete for that spot… but one that stands out is the day I finally got to the place where I could hire my first employee. I was excited, but scared. How was I going to transition from a self-motivated solopreneur to a team leader?
When I was hiring my first employee, I asked my business mentor for advice on how to be the best manager I could.
He said, “Practice the pause, and then ask for their reason.”
It was some of the best advice I have ever received… and I had to put it into practice quickly. Let me give you an example of “practicing the pause,” and then I’ll tell you more about how it works.
I Could Scream and Yell… or…
Luckily, my company continued to grow, until I was in charge of a whole team. They were a competent, creative team I was extremely proud of… but nobody is perfect all the time, especially in a fast-paced start-up.
There was one occasion when my staff had failed to meet a deadline for an important client. I was angry. I looked around at my staff, their shoulders slumped down, their posture telling me they already knew they had messed up.
I wanted to blow up and yell, and the staff looked like they expected me to lose it any second. Instead of doing that, I remembered the words of my mentor…
…I took a deep breath, paused and said, “Ok, let’s open their file and see what went wrong.”
All around me came the sound of breath that had been held, releasing. Tension that was knotting shoulders was smoothed.
As a result, instead of everyone going home complaining about each other and feeling attacked, we became a team again.
It took us a couple of hours to unravel the source of the problem – but before we left that day, we all knew what had happened and how to prevent it in the future.
I still had to fix the issue with the client, but I had a team who was willing to work to earn the customer’s continued business. They were also fiercely loyal to me, and the business.
Despite the day starting out with a huge loss, for me and my team, it turned into a big win for morale and our future work.
The Importance of Setting the Right Standard
In any organization we lead, we have to remember that we set the tone. We want to model the behavior our team will exhibit. This means acting without using our caveman brain, otherwise known as the “fight or flight reflex.”
In my story with my team, imagine if I had reacted from a place of heightened arousal, with my body and mind thinking I was preparing to battle a wooly mammoth with only a wooden club – instead of taking time to pause… and listen.
We would have had an entirely different result. I would have wrecked my team’s morale, instead of using it as a learning experience.
Tony Robbins talks about this style of approaching conflict in this video:
I highly recommend you watch the video and practice this pause. But why does taking a pause work so well? What is it about this reaction to stress that helps us stay calm?
And why is it so hard for some of us, but easier for others?
Remember – the lifespan of the chemical response in our brains is 90 seconds (see our article about the 90 Second Stress Response here). This means that any stress or anger response will run its course in 90 seconds… if we allow it to pass.
Most of us battle our emotions like they are an inconvenient visitor. But the far better way to control your emotions, rather than battling or suppressing them, is to allow yourself time to feel the emotions, let them run their course, and then react from a calmer place.
Jill Bolte Taylor said in her book, My Stroke of Insight “Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think.”
This means our bodies will react with their pre-programmed hormonal response and emotion before logic is even capable of reacting. By practicing the pause, you’re giving your body time to run through its hormonal response, and then allowing yourself to react from a more logical place.
Why do we ask a question after the pause? Asking a question after your pause also gives you greater time to move past your hormonal stress response and into a more logical place. It also gives the people you’re frustrated with a chance to explain their side of the story.
Asking questions, rather than making accusations, can often lead people to the conclusion you wanted in the first place, without feeling like an attack.
So next time you get angry or frustrated with your team, consider it a “teachable moment.”
And then ask for the reason.
This is easier said than done for some of us…
The way we act in stressful situations varies greatly. Do you know one of those people who seems to never get ruffled, no matter what happens? Their laid-back approach comes through despite unexpected stress.
A short deadline? No problem – they can handle it.
Stuck in traffic? They needed a break from the office anyway.
The refrigerator shut off? Not a big deal, it needed to be cleaned anyway.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is someone who overreacts to every little stressor.
A short deadline? They’re already overworked, there’s no way they’ll make it.
Stuck in traffic? Again? It’s going to make me late for that meeting. I should have taken the train.
The refrigerator shut off? What a waste! I’m going to have to throw all that food out. It’s probably melted all over and ruined my floor too!
There are a few reasons that people react to stress differently, but the good news is you can learn (or unlearn) how you react.
Genetics can play a part in how we react to stress. An overactive or underactive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (the hormonal feedback loop that regulates your fight or flight response) can create disproportionate reactions to stressors.
Life experience also affects the way that you react to stress. Strong reactions can be traced to traumatic events. Those who were neglected or abused as children, or those who have experienced traumatic events can be more vulnerable to stress.
If you struggle to pause and ask questions during stressful situations, we can help. Check out our articles on…
- Cultivating mindfulness in the workplace
- Switching up body language to change the way your mind works
- Reprogramming your stress response with the 90-second rule
Any other questions about leading a team? We’re happy to help.
Submit your question to email@example.com or comment below.
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