There is a point that every child reaches, toddler or teenager, where they need to take a time-out. We found that with our children, it was sometimes necessary for their own welfare to have a time-out long enough for them to settle down and come out a happier person. For them it was a punishment, but we, as parents, realized a time-out was a buffer that many times prevented further damage to a situation or relationship.
Believe it or not, adulthood didn’t make us perfect. A significant difference between toddlers and adults is that no one can tell you to go to your room. Unfortunately, we have the freedom as adults to stay in a situation much longer than we probably should. We, like toddlers, still have things that annoy us, that annoy others, and that push our buttons to the point where we are no longer a productive person in that situation. The reason childhood was so much easier is because there was often a parent to stop things before too much harm was done.
Actions that lead to time-out situations many times require apologies. Apologies in childhood were required for sharpie-painted walls and pulled hair, among many other things. Professional apologies are a lot harder, the situations much more complicated, and can meet with much less forgiving parties than your parents or siblings.
So what am I saying?
I’m saying that we need to know our limits, and we need to know when to give ourselves a break before things get out of hand. A time-out for adults is much like a time-out for children. When we are on the verge of or path to saying words that hurt others, we need to take a step back.
What could this look like?
You have a team member that has done something that you see as completely irresponsible or totally out of line. You address them calmly, but notice that your emotions begin to escalate to the point where things you will regret two hours from now are about to be said.
Your challenge for the week: Excuse yourself from the situation and give yourself a time- out.
This can sound like, “I need some time to think about this and how to best address it without aggravating the situation. Can we talk about this tomorrow?”
You may not have a lot of situations like this, but for the times that you do, it is an essential behavior. The famous relationship studies conducted by Dr. John Gottman establish this time-out principle as a key for maintaining relational stability. It appears that taking a break provides the fight or flight response, which causes you to want to attack the person or situation, a chance to biologically diffuse. Without that break, the reactive brain essentially hijacks the thinking brain in order to self-preserve. Not a good state for a leader to be in.
Establishing rules of engagement are a vital step to effective leadership. If you can’t control yourself, you can’t lead others.
Let me know how it goes!