I'm Learning to Pause.

I’ve always been averse to the thought of salesmanship. I find it slimy, underhanded, dishonest and cheesy. I prefer to tell the whole truth in an authentic and engaging way. To me selling equated to lying. But as usual altMBA has changed the way that I frame my views. Seth posits, “I define selling as the transference of emotion… Selling is a human being saying to another human being I believe in this.” That’s a stance on selling that I can get behind.

We’ve been tasked with catching people doing right three times a day for a month with the goal of calling them out, whether it be publicly or privately. I enjoy encouraging people and championing right, but I’ve never put specific parameters around it to create a cadence of continual positive feedback. One of my favorite ways to communicate is handwritten notes. So, I’ll be using this method to call out the right that I see all around me for the next month.

The second challenge I’ve been tasked with is using silence to create tension and ultimately change. I’m not a big fan of pregnant pauses. I tend to want to fill any silence with more and more of my viewpoints, explanations and rationale for how and why the situation at hand should change. The older I get, the more I understand the need to pause, listen and exhale. An immediate response is not always necessary, plus it can be detrimental to the outcome that I may be seeking. I’ve learned this the hard way a few times.

The most recent way that I’ve learned the need for silence is through peer reviews at work. As many companies now do, annual reviews are no longer a 1-on-1 conversation with your manager. Instead, they take a 360-approach that involves reviews from your peers. I appreciate this holistic view as it provides more relevant and realistic feedback to hear from those you interact with on a daily basis.

In a review about six months ago, I received a piece of negative feedback amongst a body of otherwise positive commentary. But that one piece stuck with me: inflexible and stymies collaboration. It felt like a sharp knife to my flesh.

Aside from the fact that I (all too often) place a high-level of emphasis on what others think of me, this piece of feedback was not a reflection of who I thought I was or who I wanted to be. My knee-jerk reaction was to defend myself. “But I was standing up for the right thing for the project. If I don’t defend the process, who will?” After a lot of reflection and analysis after the initial sting of not receiving a perfect review, I started to see it differently.

I was fighting so ferociously to defend myself that I wasn’t demonstrating my belief. I should have paused during the tension instead of trying to build my case. During those times when emotions and stress were already running high, I should have taken a beat. Pausing doesn’t only create a tension, but it creates space. Space to breathe, to think, to reframe, to listen, to grow. It’s not the comfortable thing to do. Plus, in an industry that thrives on loud voices and opinions, it can seem like you’re shrinking into the background when you don’t add your ideas to the cacophony in the room. But I think it would have served me well to pause.

Regardless of what point I was trying to prove in the moment, that’s not what was being conveyed. To use Seth’s description, my selling was an attempt to transfer emotion. But all I was transferring in those moments was stress, frustration and anxiety that things were not aligning to my worldview. No wonder it came across as inflexibility.

As hard as it is to know that I was viewed this way in that moment, I’ve been consciously striving to remedy my approach. I take pauses now. I don’t have to be the first to speak. I sit back to consider the views and frameworks that are driving others comments and ideas, so I can effectively position my contribution to the conversation. I want to add value instead of noise. It’s not about praise but progress.

Even the best of intentions can fall short if the timing and context is disregarded. So, next time… I’ll wait. I’ll breathe. I’ll exhale. I’ll pause. I’ll listen. I’ll learn. I’ll reframe. I’ll push for change with silence instead of an excess of words. I will choose to grow.


I’m learning more and more how to appreciate the silences that push me to be a better version of myself than I am today.