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  • Writer's pictureAlex Bowman

You Always Have a Choice

Having intention when responding to a situation.

Do you ever wish the way you reacted was different?

Do you find yourself agreeing to stuff you don't want to do?

When I start to work with a client, they are usually on autopilot. They are so busy reacting to situations, becoming overwhelmed, and having little space for anything else. Reacting to a situation means we take our first thought or behaviour as the most appropriate and act on it.

Let's use a recent example from one of my clients. We'll call her Jane, and she is a CEO of a successful company going through a period of growth. Jane loves her staff; she wants them to feel supported, so she has an "open door" policy should they need anything.

In one of our sessions, Jane explained how she was feeling overwhelmed and unproductive. Staff kept coming through her door and disturbing her, which meant she felt distracted and frustrated from working on her projects.

Jane's reaction to the situation was that she had two choices; keeping or terminating the "open door" policy.

I want to pause this story for a second. One of the first things I work on with clients is the "balance equation." The equation means that when you say "yes" to something, you need to know what you say "no" to. This is also true when you reverse the equation; whatever you say "no" to, you need to be aware of what you're saying "yes" to. If this sounds like some far-out nonsense, stick with me for a sec whilst I put it into context.

I asked Jane to apply the balance equation to her situation. Jane's reaction was that if she said "yes" to continue supporting the staff, she was saying "no" to productivity on her projects. If she said "no" to the open door policy, she was saying "yes" to productivity and sacrificing the supportive culture she was trying to create.

Neither solutions were ideal, but we now had a clear understanding of both sides of the equation in her mind. Jane wanted a solution for having time for both productivity on projects and supporting staff to create an impactful culture.

Applying the balance equation allowed us to see Jane's reactions to the situation, and they were very limited. We used the rest of the session to look at how she could respond to the situation. Reacting means running on autopilot, whereas responding is about stepping back, seeing the bigger picture you're fighting for and taking action towards it.

Jane decided that she would have a set time every day to open her door to staff. This meant that she could have her own time to be productive and have time to serve the team and culture. Jane also had the insight that if staff didn't come through her door at the allotted time, she would actively use it to build relationships in the company by being in the kitchen and talking to anyone making a coffee.

The point of this story is that our initial behaviour is a reaction to a situation, and we shouldn't always rely on it. Instead, we should break the pattern by looking at what we want from a situation and make choices. I appreciate that this sounds like common sense, but when people are overwhelmed, they rarely question their decisions and usually add more to their plate than create space.

Breaking the pattern of how we react so that we can respond is also true in communication. We may be flustered, and someone asks us a question. Our initial behaviour might be to be shut them down and show we're cross. We feel backed into a corner because of our internal situation, so we fight back. However, when we break the pattern simply by noticing this is our first reaction, we realise we can either go with our gut or respond differently.

When I'm in this situation, I now show honesty and vulnerability and say something like, "I've got a lot going on in my head at the moment. Can we pick this up in an hour so I can be completely present for your question?".

Let's look at a simple process you can apply to your life so that you can start responding rather than reacting:

1. Break the pattern - Pause and notice your initial reaction to the situation you face. This alone will stop you running on autopilot and free up space for other choices.

2. Get out of jail free - If your situation demands an immediate response, be vulnerable and ask for more time so that you can respond rather than react. Say something like, "that's a great question, and I need time to think. I'll get back to you within the hour".

3. Use the balance equation - Get clear on what you want to say yes and no to. In the example of Jane's situation, "I want to say yes to having my own time to be productive, so I'm saying no to my door being open ALL the time".

4. Take action - Now respond to the situation in honour of what you want.

This process is a form of mindfulness as you take the time to be aware of your thoughts and reactions rather than acting upon them immediately. The purpose is to make sure your responses and actions serve what you want to achieve rather than reacting to a situation.

If you continue to react to situations and want to change your response, please click this link; I would love to help you.

Here's to your journey.


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