One of the biggest improvement opportunities for busy professionals is responding rather than reacting. 

The person at the top of the organizational chart got there because of their ability to set and execute a vision and strategy. Whether you own the business or advanced through the hierarchy, getting to and staying at the top is about a successful vision and strategy. The same is true for the company, as a whole…getting to and staying on top is about a successful vision and strategy. 

Vision and strategy require planning, so the successful executive or owner is usually well-skilled in planning and execution. Why, then, do so many successful professionals find themselves reacting (and many times not in the most calm, professional way) when things don’t go according to plan? 

Good planning, by its nature, should include flexibility for the plan not working as, well, planned… Even so, we still have an obligation to respond in a measured, quality way when life deviates from our vision. So, how? 

One of the most common suggestions to respond better is to pause before responding. Great! How does one remember to pause, and what the heck are we supposed to do during the pause anyway? (Hint: it’s not just count to ten so you don’t knock the other party’s head off!) 

The key to remembering to pause lies in the action to complete: externalizing. Whether this is written or verbal articulation of the issue, possible courses of action, and a path forward, externalization (i.e. getting it out of your head) is a critical step to effective problem-solving. 

Habits become much easier when we see them as part of our identities. To create a habit of pausing and externalizing, assume an identity as someone who pauses, externalizes, and chooses a path forward in a measured, considered way. In other words, make it a rule; “I am a person who pauses, externalizes, and responds.” 

It won’t be perfect every time, but gradually we get better at identity-based habits. 

So, what do you do when you pause and externalize? Simple questions: What is the issue? What are my/our options? Which one makes the most sense given what I know right now? Do I have to act now or can I collect more information? If I must act now, what is the next action? 

You can lead your team through those questions, talk through them aloud to yourself, or write them down, but don’t go through them in your head. And before saying, “That takes way too long at the moment”, it’ll take about thirty seconds. If a successful owner or executive cannot spare thirty seconds to assess the situation and respond elegantly s/he won’t be successful very long. 

Pause. Externalize. Respond. Make it a rule, let it become a habit, and see how much your decisions and outcomes improve. 


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