“Everything has two handles: one by which it can be born and the other by which it can’t.”    The Art of Living – Epictetus

So often, I watch in utter amazement the reaction that we sometimes witness when people reply to a statement which they do not support. Before the paint dries, they are shouting at the top of their voice.  The opposing view, which may be part of the solution, is lost in the heat of the moment. Have you had such an experience? Perhaps, you were the originator of such an occurrence.

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

What I have found helpful in these combative moments is to slow down the conversation. Let it sink in.

“Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”  Stephen R. Covey

How do you approach the reply you make to others with whom you do not agree? Are you completely silent? Do you not respond at all? Do they know of your disagreement? Or, are you just the opposite? Are you hostile to the point that you shut down their response? What is your approach? If you experience regular moments of elevated hostility, perhaps it is time to consider a different approach.

I believe that not answering is in fact an answer and robs the other person of an opportunity for reflection that could be useful. I think that a harsh, over-the-top reaction, is not helpful either. We may squash the other person’s response. We may shut them down, but what does that prove? Just that we stop any other reply?

What we need is a positive answer that will provide the framework for a quality discussion – something that seems unavailable in today’s politically-charged atmosphere.

Where do we go?  What shall we do? In these situations, I find helpful a powerful tool that is often used by professional speakers. I love using this device in my own keynote speeches. I will often practice many minutes on use of an instrument that takes only a few seconds in my presentation. It is a simple and highly effective tool.

The power of the pause.

Speakers love to talk. They are known for continuous conversation. They are paid for their words. Yet, the most powerful moments in the best presentations come after a pause. It is that momentary delay, a moment of silence, that allows the audience to reflect on all that has been said. It is that suspension, a quiet moment that communicates a resonating understanding that what comes next is extremely important. The next words from the speaker are essential for the entire speech. It is a pause that allows, even encourages, the audience to focus on the topic at hand.

If we deliberately allow a pause in our challenging conversations, both parties would benefit. The person speaking gets to catch up, so to speak, in his own thinking; a chance to reflect on the next words he will say. The listener also gets to reflect on the whole dialogue. And, just like the audience, more importance is placed on what is said next. The person speaking and the one listening are given a reflective moment and, in the process, create added emphasis of importance on what takes place next.

Our best conversations have brief moments of clarity and significance.

Take a moment and think about some of the best exchanges you have had in recent months. You will remember a moment or two of simplicity and lucidity.  What you recall is often one or two sentences. Sometimes, just two or three words. The smallest part of the conversation could be the most significant.

If, only we did not miss these moments. A pause can remind us of the tremendous value of our relationships and the importance of what we say and how we say it. And . . . how we listen!

The next time you are in a challenging conversation, try a proven effective tool.



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