This One-Second Habit Is the Key to Emotional Intelligence
Magic happens when you let yourself pause
Over the past two decades, I’ve advised Fortune 500 companies and high-growth teams, worked with Middle East leaders and conducted U.S. government-funded research on terrorism — all in the name of helping people find better ways of working together. Along the way, I’ve realized that emotional awareness can make the difference between ongoing conflict and constructive action.
It’s a skill that comes in especially handy right now, as we’re all facing new challenges and disruptions to our daily lives. It’s a tense, anxious time, and the high emotional temperature of the moment makes it easier than usual to get stuck in a tug-of-war of unnecessary conflict.
Luckily, emotional awareness can be learned and improved. Here’s where to begin:
In times of stress or decision fatigue, a short pause can go a long way. It’s as straightforward as it sounds: Instead of reacting to other people when you’re feeling on edge, take a quick break to reset.
One of my closest friends and colleagues, Wendy, is great at doing this. Every once in a while, when it’s clear she’s feeling tense about whatever question or decision we might be discussing — or if she’s annoyed by my approach — she’ll ask me to hold on. Then she takes a brief, quiet moment to cool down, collect her thoughts, and clearly articulate what’s concerning her.
I am grateful for Wendy’s habit of hitting pause. It probably ends up saving both of us time and frustration. And while she takes her pause, I get one, too. The few seconds of silence provide just enough time for me to do my own calming down, and I can reflect on how I might respond to her concerns.
The greater the intensity of your emotional experience, the more you can benefit from a pause. But there’s a catch: The more upset you are, the harder it is to take that pause. Intense emotions can be overwhelming, which makes you want to narrow in on them instead of taking a step back to consider the bigger picture. I’ve personally experienced this many times, especially when I’m angry. My immediate reaction — that feeling of outrage — seems to replay itself…