I was recently watching Oprah’s interview with Dr. Edith Eva Eger, 90-year old Holocaust survivor turned psychologist.
She was telling a story about a time when she was working with a court-ordered patient who came in to their session spouting angry, hateful and racist language.
She recognized in that moment that she wanted to REACT to what he was saying with her story of the horrendous treatment she saw of Jews during World War II. She wanted him to hear how she lost both her parents the first day her family arrived at Auschwitz, how her dreams as a young girl of being a dancer were stolen from her by racists in power.
Instead, recognizing that this would not create a place of healing and connection with this young man, she paused and made a conscious decision to RESPOND instead.
She gave him the space, without judgment, to voice his opinions.
This ultimately built trust and a starting point where she could serve this person versus going back to her story and, most likely, shutting the young man down with no possibility of connection.
This is how the best leaders operate. When things get heated in a project the best leaders take a beat and respond versus react.
They listen and ask more questions.
They create a space, an opening, where trust, connection, and better solutions can arise.
Try This First Responder Leadership Tip
The next time you find yourself in a situation where you are tempted to react in a way that you know does not feel “leaderly” try this instead.
- Take a breath. Put a pause in the situation
- Choose to first respond by asking more questions. My favorite- “Can you tell me more about what is going on?”.
- Hold the space for connection and communication by being a First Responder.
P.S. Family often can give us perfect opportunities to practice this leadership skill. For whatever reason, family triggers reactions in us which later we often regret. Use your family interactions as opportunities to build up your responder muscle.