The purpose of Pause is to check our frame of mind and that of the person we are interacting with.
The pause is to remind us that it is very easy for us to react emotionally, which is not going to help the situation. The old adage of counting to 10 is a useful one, an idea that is backed up by neuroscience. If something triggers us to react emotionally, then a chemical called cortisol is released into the brain and the body is primed, ready us for action. Our muscles tense and our heart rate increases. We get ready to fight, freeze, or flee. However, this flood of cortisol is temporary and starts to subside after around 12 seconds. Counting to 10 will therefore help to cross this hurdle and enable us to feel a little calmer.
This short pause is only the first step: it only helps us not to react immediately. Taking a longer pause gives us an opportunity to consider the emotional state of the other person. When dealing with a flare up, the other person is likely to also be reacting emotionally, just as we are. This is the secret ingredient to ignite the fire: emotional mirroring. This makes a productive conversation highly unlikely.
It is also worth bearing in mind that we cannot control the state of mind of the other person. However, we can control our own reaction, by pausing and then switching to a planned template.
Only once the other person has finished reacting emotionally, are we able to connect with their social mind. This means we need to wait for their emotional mind to calm and their social mind to contribute.
This is why almost all approaches to resolving conflict start with listening.
Pausing is not enough. Although our initial short pause will help prevent our own reaction, it can take much longer for our emotional mind to subside and for the social mind of the other person to gain control. There is no rule for how long this can be. Sometimes it can take as much as 15 minutes or more, sometimes longer.
Taking this long pause and listening to the other person also provides us with the opportunity to consider the importance of whether or not to continue with the conversation. When we take a long-term view, we can see that some things that seem to be very important at the time, with hindsight prove to be much less so. Few things really matter as much as them seem to at the time. So, if we are able to put the current situation into perspective, we might come to the conclusion that it is not worth having the conversation at all. Once we have listened to the other person and they have had their say, we might acknowledge what they have said and simply conclude the conversation. Walking away from conflict is often the best course of action.
There is one major caveat to this, of course – some conversations really are important. Not engaging with such conversations, when they form part of a pattern of conflicts that contribute to a larger, more significant issue, can affect and undermine one-to-one relationships and the wider community.