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  • Lacy Starling

#19: Take a Beat and a Breath

Last week, I had the privilege of being part of a seminar taught by Dr. Jennifer Stollman, an equity consultant who was teaching us about anti-racism, diversity and inclusion, areas where we all have a lot of work to do. The entire seminar was eye-opening and mind-blowing, and I took pages upon pages of notes, but one of the pieces I loved the most was the phrase, "Take a beat and a breath."


Dr. Stollman repeated it many times throughout the two hours, in the context of stopping the knee-jerk emotional—and often physical—response we, as humans, have when faced with fraught conversations, like those about racism and inequity. (It also applies to difficult conversations about the strategic direction of your business, or difficult HR conversations, and many other areas.) In those situations, our first instinct is often to begin spinning, to allow our heart rates to rise and our breathing to become shallow. I, for one, also tend to tear up immediately as a response to difficult confrontations like these.


When that happens—when our lizard brains take over and our limbic response goes crazy—we are not our best selves. We throw all the communication skills that we've developed out the window and revert to whatever third-grade tactics surface when we're faced with a bully....or we are guilty of bullying someone ourselves. Instead of allowing emotion to take over, though, Dr. Stollman recommends simply stopping. Pause. Breathe deeply. Stop the blood pressure rising. Don't hyperventilate. Just....breathe. And even if you have let yourself go into your lizard brain, you can still stop at any point in the conversation and bring yourself back out of it, and re-center the conversation on a productive exchange, instead of participating a dunk-fest or a screaming match. (I've had plenty of both in my business career, and they never accomplished anything.)


Take a beat, and a breath. Re-focus on listening, on responding carefully and with kindness, and work toward some kind of resolution. Good advice for business, and good advice for life.

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