Want to become a better communicator? Build a “pause” habit

by | Apr 21, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

Will you please pause for our cause? Our cause: Pause before communicating to make us all better communicators.

As context, here’s why we members of the Habit Crew (Sam Yankelevitch, Jim Thompson, and I) advocate the practice of pausing. It’s the ideal habit to make you a better communicator.

When you pause, you:

  • Accept the responsibility of sending and/or receiving messages. Even though we communicate all the time, very few of us are consistently reliable and responsible communicators. Being accountable for communication requires us to be active players in messy, often complicated processes. Let’s face it, we humans are complex and the act of communication is complex. All languages are complicated. Plus effective communication at a minimum includes making an extensive effort to listen, read, interpret visuals, and watch and decipher body language and other non-verbal cues.
  • Start to make the invisible visible. Work communications, like everyday communications, generally has a hidden component: unidentified assumptions. For instance, we humans tend to think others are just like us and will automatically interpret messages the same way we do. (In reality, we can’t even agree on room temperatures!) When you stop to identify the assumptions you’re operating under and bring them out in the open, you’re on your way to reducing the friction found in so many communication interactions.
  • Pay attention to how you can send and/or receive messages more effectively and efficiently. We humans often make inaccurate assumptions about our attention span. We assume we’re paying attention ourselves. And we also assume we automatically get the attention of others when we request it. However, we can’t take our own, or others’ attention for granted. Attention is a gift, especially considering the massive amounts of information coming our way and all the bad habits many of us have. For example, multi-tasking, distractions, and poor listening skills just to name a few all can hinder communication, especially when you’re making a call to action or complying with a request from someone else.

When you’re more intentional about how you communicate – which the pause encourages you to do — you improve the quality of the messages you send and receive. You build more shared understanding between yourself and others. Plus, you save time, decrease errors and waste, reduce friction in your work and relationships, and build more trust with your colleagues. 

Our goal in writing our book – all about why and how to adopt the habit of the pause before communicating – is to help ourselves and others improve how we communicate in all sorts of work situations. We’ll be describing helpful steps for sending and receiving clear, compelling, and actionable messages.

We’ll also be explaining the human, cultural and other barriers that get in the way. By making these elements visible, we hope to help you avoid repeating the many work mishaps we’ve  experienced in our careers and prevent contributing to new problems.

Between our solo writing sessions when Sam, Jim and I update one another, we often share war stories. And almost all of these tales of woe include some communication-related mishap even though the problem seemed to have other origins or contributing factors. As we analyze our stories, we realize in hindsight that at least one person (and sometimes everyone) set up obstacles and ended up falling into a communication trap. And that led to any number of problems — missed deadlines, cost overruns, errors, waste, rework, stoppages, disagreements, fights, and on and on. Yet, if anyone had paused to be more intentional about communicating, we could have prevented or at least mitigated the impact of the problems.

How do you build a pause into your communication? You’ve got to create a time-sensitive habit that you can activate quickly. It needs to start when you’re sending a message or if you’re on the receiving end, when a new message is arriving. This works especially well for “calls to action” – that is, you’re either asking someone to do something or you’re complying with someone else’s request of you.

Here are three ways to build a habit of pausing and preparing for a successful call to action:

  • Create a recipe, a la Tiny Habits®, such as:
    1. For senders: After I decide to make a call to action, I will pause and consider how I’ll customize my request to fit the particular individual(s) receiving my request.
    2. For receivers: After I realize someone is asking me to act, I will pause and give my undivided attention to this individual and their request.
  • Channel someone who excels at communication whom you want to emulate. You may choose one person as a shining example for sending and another one for receiving. Then when you’re ready to make or receive a call to action, pause, and start to channel that individual. For example, I’ll often channel Marcel the Therapy Dog who is a master at grabbing my attention even though he doesn’t talk and seldom barks.
  • Design and document at least two process flows. You’ll need one process for sending communication and another one for receiving. You may want sub-process flows too. After you initiate or receive your call to action, you’ll activate the appropriate process.

Please play around with these and adjust them to fit you and your situations. As you practice, you may discover new and better ways to use your pause. And you’ll become an even better communicator.

Remember that whenever you pause and think intentionally about how you communicate as a sender or receiver of messages, you’re showing respect for both the communication process and the individuals involved.

And by taking a pause, you’re on the road to being a more responsible communicator. You’re also making an effort to avoid collisions and any other accidents. You may still have some twists and turns due to the complexity of communicating, but you’ll be improving and making progress.

If you want to follow our work, please join our LinkedIn Group, The Communication Habit.


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