A deliberate responder is someone who has listened and then intentionally decides what, how and when to respond, avoiding the pitfall of reacting without consideration or reflection. Successful leaders are able to control their emotions and measure their responses, earning respect and trust, and significantly decreasing misunderstandings and overreactions.
Here are 4 steps to help you become a deliberate responder:
1. Learn to pause or delay as needed.
Take a moment to yourself prior to responding. This can be a few seconds or a few minutes. This gives you time to: assess if you understood correctly and have all the information; breath and control your temper or emotions; plan a measured, non-sarcastic response. For highly emotional issues, waiting a few hours or a day, may be more appropriate. A good leader is able to recognize when his or her emotions are triggered and will delay responding until he or she has had a chance to calm down and logically consider all the information.
I once had a team member tell me in confidence that he had witnessed another team member do something dangerous, stupid and against policy. I immediately reacted by summoning this team member and asking him why he did such a bone-headed thing. I was upset that he would make such a mistake, and told him the consequences could have a long-term, career-damaging effect. I could sense his growing fear and confusion in his response. Fortunately, we had a sufficiently trusting relationship, that he overcame his fear and I was able to calm down while we spoke. It then became apparent that the first person did not have all the facts and had actually misinterpreted the situation entirely. Not only did I nearly create a permanent impairment in my team member’s career, but I felt like a real jerk for not calming down and finding out what really happened before reacting.
2. Avoid sarcasm or sarcastic remarks.
While jokes are fun with friends, as a general rule, once you become a supervisor, you should avoid making sarcastic comments to your team. The risk that your sarcasm could be misinterpreted outweighs any intent to be perceived as funny or intelligent. In fact, a sarcastic tone can easily be mistaken for a condescending one. I once received some feedback which indicated that I had a sarcasm problem. My immediate thought was “that’s stupid! Whoever said that doesn’t know what sarcasm is!” But, I put on my big-boy pants and proceeded to validate that feedback. Through asking trusted co-workers and my own self-reflection, I realized that I had the tendency to try and make a quick-witted comment or quip every time someone spoke to me, like I was an actor on a sit-com. These comments were so full of sarcasm that it created the feeling among some of my team that I was just trying to belittle them and show my superiority. I realized my sarcastic tone and impulsive responses were alienating my team and preventing serious dialogue from occurring. With a concerted effort to restrain myself, I was able to control myself and began taking a moment to consider my replies and how I delivered them. This increased the trust and dialogue within my team, improving our morale and productivity.
3. Plan your response and practice your tone.
Planning and rehearsing how you will respond to a specific inquiry or comment will help prevent over-reactions. You were once in your team members’ shoes and should be able to anticipate many of their concerns and questions, (both specific/personal and general/organizational). When one of these issues is brought up, pause and consider the appropriate pre-planned response, adapt it to the current inquiry, then deliver it. Remember this is not a memorized speech, it is simply anticipating what conversations may occur, and preparing how to handle them. As you do this, you increase your ability to not emotionally over-react and to provide a confident response with the appropriate tone.
4. Sincerity: Congruence between your verbals and non-verbals.
As with all communication, your tone and non-verbals need to match your verbal message. Having prepared and practiced responses will go along way to helping you keep your non-verbals in alignment with your words. When your verbals and non-verbals are in alignment, the risk of misinterpretations and misunderstandings decreases dramatically. This congruency also demonstrates sincerity in the communication. When your team knows you are sincere in your responses, trust and loyalty are strengthened.
Becoming a deliberate responder by learning to control your emotions, gather sufficient information and make a calm, confident and sincere response, it not easy. It takes daily effort and practice over time. But using these four principles consistently, any leader can improve his or her skills in this area.
I know it is possible because, as you saw in the examples, this was a weakness for me. Through concerted and focused effort, I became very adept at deliberately responding. Not perfect, but I keep practicing daily and get better all the time. If I can do it, I know anyone can.