The power of pause (and the connection to kindness) | Quint Studer

Quint Studer, Special to the Pensacola News Journal

The other day, my cousin Al shared with me that he appreciated a statement I had made years ago on what a gift a pause is. By this, he meant the space between what he wants to do or say and the moment he actually does or says it. Pausing gives him time to make the decision and/or take the action … or not. By “or not” I mean that the pause allows us to rethink. Many times, not taking the action or not saying the words is the better choice.

This week I found myself missing the pause button as I rushed to respond to emails. In at least one instance, my response was not helpful to the sender or to those copied. How I miss those days when it took longer to respond! That time we had to read over the letter and to rethink before putting it in the mail was so helpful. In the world of texts, social media and email, practicing the pause takes so much more maturity and discipline than it once did. At times I lack both.

When leaders fail to practice the pause and lash out with irritation or anger, we may do a lot of harm. We may cause employees to become disengaged, which harms our company in numerous ways. We may alienate colleagues. We may lose clients and customers (or potential clients and customers). Certainly, we detract from the positivity we should be striving to infuse into every aspect of our company culture. And all of this is just what happens in the workplace. We need the pause at home and in our personal relationships just as much. It needs to be a way of life.

Years ago, I was in a meeting and a person commented that he had lots of patience and tolerance. I thought that is what I need, so I listened carefully. He then said, “Because I’ve never used any.” I got it.

When people ask me what advice I give most often, I tell them it’s this: First, be kind to yourself. What I mean by that is that people who tend to be too hard on themselves also tend to be too hard on others. Once our own ego is deflated, we are much better at having empathy for others. My feeling is most people want to do a good job. So, when mistakes are made, it is not because they are trying to make them. For me, when I jump to judgment, it is because I have an unhealthy need to feel better about me. It is also because I have fallen into the trap of taking things personally. Before I can be kind to others, I have to be kind to myself.

So today is about taking time to be kind to yourself, to forgive yourself, and to do the same for others. (Once you’ve mastered being kind to yourself, being kind to others gets a lot easier.) I feel social media has exacerbated a lack of forgiveness and kindness. When a kicker misses a field goal for his team, many people jump on social media making nasty comments. Do they really think the kicker was trying to miss?

Or what about when you’re on an airplane and an announcement is made that due to weather or perhaps a mechanical issue, the takeoff is delayed. Passengers can get very upset. Again, I cannot imagine that the airline said, “Let’s see if we can get people upset today.”

Or let’s say the ribs ordered at a restaurant are tougher than the customer wanted. Yes, do let the server know, but be kind about it. My guess is the restaurant will make every effort to make it up.

When I was president of Baptist Hospital, a physician approached me over something that happened and said, “Did you do this on purpose or are you just this ignorant?” Looking at the options, I chose ignorant. Why would I do something on purpose to upset him? He seemed to like my response.

Some time ago in Wisconsin, I pulled out of a filling station as another vehicle was pulling in, and my car hit it. The driver of the van got out and started screaming at me. After a while I said, “If you think I somehow did this on purpose, I am sorry. It is not really something I wanted to happen.” Eventually, after cooling down, he apologized.

What if just for today, at work and at home, we took time to pause more? What if we made an effort not to take mistakes personally? What if we acted with kindness?

Here are some tips that I am writing for me. Some of them may help you as well.

  1. Assume that this action or mistake is not about us. The driver who cut us off did not do it to us. The driver not moving quickly when the light turns green does not have a grand plan to frustrate us or make us late. Once we don’t take things personally, once we realize that the actions of others are not about us, life is a bit better.
  2. Have empathy and give people the benefit of patience. We have no idea what the other person is experiencing or has experienced. It’s possible that person who may be short with us, cut us off, or cut in line may just not be aware of what is going on. Or they may be going through something terrible. Years ago, my youngest son was crushed by a Bobcat earthmover. As the ambulance pulled away with my wife and son, I jumped in the van and rushed to the hospital. When I got there, he was in the emergency room. I went right by registration into the ER. I likely did not drive well that day and rushed by people in the hospital, including the registration person (who was understanding). Life happens. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Pause. If there is the smallest doubt about sending a text or email or saying something, give it a few minutes. My friend Marv Wopat once said we have many opportunities to keep our mouths shut. Take advantage of them all. I will often at a meeting write on a paper KMBMS. This stands for Keep My Big Mouth Shut. It helps.
  4. Forgive. I believe the best, healthiest companies have forgiveness as part of the culture. Same with families and societies. When I was COO at Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago, a vice president left, and until a replacement was found, all his direct reports came my way. At the first combined meeting with my new direct reports and existing ones, I had each existing direct report share a mistake they had made. I started with a mistake I had made. After all the existing direct reports finished, I asked the new direct reports what they heard. After a while, I asked, “What is one thing that everyone who shared has in common?” The answer was, “They are all still here.” The message is that we all make mistakes; however, they are forgiven. We learn from our mistakes and move on.
  5. Apologize and don’t expect anything from the other person. Yes, it is nice to apologize and receive a warm response. However, it may not happen. We apologize to clean off our side of the street. This week I gained more experience with apologizing.

In summary, one hears about paying it forward. Let’s get intentional about creating a culture of kindness within ourselves and then share it with those around us. It’s just a better way to work, to lead and to live our lives.

Quint Studer is the founder of the Studer Community Institute and a successful business leader, speaker and author. He is also the entrepreneur in residence at the University of West Florida. His new book, “The Busy Leader’s Handbook: How to Lead People and Places That Thrive,” is out now.