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Leading Adult Learners


31 Oct

The power of pause

Posted by Joan Dalton

River at the bottom of our property

This morning I went for a walk along the river at the bottom of our property. Swollen after recent heavy rains, little eddies gently swirled around the banks where the platypus play. The grasses and bushes stretched themselves to the sun, raindrops glistening on their foliage. A wedge-tail eagle circled silently overhead and kookaburras sat patiently, hoping to capture a frog or two for breakfast.

And in the quiet of nature, I stopped, and paused... and revelled in the day.

My heart rate slowed. I breathed deeply. I felt calm and joyful on the inside, fully conscious in the moment. Refreshed, I continued on my walk.

At a time when daily pressures urge us to do more and more, faster and faster, to be connected to the world 24/7, we generally recognise that taking time to pause is a precious and necessary gift to our health, our sleep, and our energy levels.

Most of us take time to pause in a variety of ways, and for varying lengths of time. What we don't always recognise is the gift that pausing brings to our conversations, with multiple benefits for you, for those you are talking with, and for the topic or issue at hand.

Pausing offers the talker and the listener/s space to 'hear' to understand, to process and to take a 'helicopter' view of what is being said, and perhaps what is not being said. When you consciously step outside yourself to *meta-reflect in this way, you are more able to monitor and direct the course of what is happening. (*See Book 5, Learning Talk: important conversations at work, pp 80-81)

Pausing to reclaim time to think and to breathe is especially important:

  1. When you feel ambushed by others' needs and agendas, especially when you haven't had time to think or prepare, or when high emotion is involved.
  2. During conversations where there are significant consequences or implications for action, and decisions to be made.


1. Feeling ambushed: strategies to use

These three common scenarios are intended as scaffolds to help you think about times when you have felt 'ambushed'. Use or adapt the suggestions for how you might respond to your own situation and context.

'I can be in my office, working at the computer on an important deadline, when someone will rush through the door, sit down and say 'Have you got a minute? I'm absolutely seething over Kate: she's done it again!'

You might say: 'I don't right now because I have a 3pm deadline on this. You're upset, and we need to be able to talk calmly about the situation, so let's meet first thing tomorrow morning...'

(Assertively and respectfully says 'no', explains why, pro-actively reminds person of need to be calm for conversation, and makes a time to meet.)


'I'll be walking down the hallway on an important mission, and a team member will rush up and say 'I've got to talk to you urgently – we have to do something about..!'

You might say: 'I know this is important to you, and it's too important for a rushed conversation – we need to sit down and allow due time to talk...what about meeting... suggests time'.

(Acknowledges importance, need for proper time to be given, negotiates time.)


'During meetings, we have one particular team member who will say 'I know it's not on the agenda, but we really need to make a decision about...'

You might say: 'I need some time to think about this – let's put it on our *Unfinished Business chart for our next meeting.'

(Assertively requests reflection time, acknowledges issue and signals intent to act)

* This strategy helps to maximise and maintain focus of conversation and minimize distractions, so important during precious meeting time.


2. Pause during conversations: strategies to use

Model the effective use of pause with these two practical strategies:


You can find more practical strategies and stories to help you use 'pause' effectively in Book 4, Learning Talk: develop the art of inquiry, pp 25-27.

Remember, what you pay conscious attention to, flourishes!


Thanks Joan for directing me to your blog.
I think you have given me a gift which I will endeavour to share as far and as widely as I can starting with the pausing strategies. I see so many of colleagues including myself if I am not aware and "present’ feeling ambushed by scenarios very similar to those you suggested and not having a way of managing it respectfully.

Posted by helyn strokowsky on July 19, 2018

Hi Joan

As you can see, there has been a big pause between me receiving your email and my reply!
At last I have time to respond. Pausing is something you and David taught me a few years ago and it has proven to be invaluable ever since. My staff have even commented (favourably) about it.

Posted by Cleve Bloor on December 15, 2016

Thank you Joan; a beautifully written and thoughtful reminder of the power of pause. I will share this with our staff.

Posted by Shirley Winters on November 07, 2016

Sometimes I call it giving time for my soul to catch up with my body.

Posted by caron on November 05, 2016

What a beautiful reflection to share with all staff. Timely and thought provoking for all of us. thanks Joan!

Posted by Mark Hogbin on November 03, 2016

Thank you for the link to your blog. The importance of the gift and the power of the pause is crucial in having effective learning conversations. Thank you for the reminder of the strategies to embed in our practice to support us when talking our way to deep and shared understanding.

Posted by Cathy Grace on November 02, 2016

Thank you Joan for this article. It is a fresh reminder that we do not work at our best unless we take the time to pause and reflect before we are moved to action.

Posted by Brian Gower on November 02, 2016

hello oh wise one
another strategy I have found effective in creating a pause it to ask, “what do you think you could do about that ….”

Posted by Gary Tenbeth on November 02, 2016

so, so very timey both for self and a colleague
thank you for your wisdom

Posted by helyn strokowsky on November 01, 2016

The timing of this reflection about the importance of the pause is perfect! Thank you!

Posted by Brendan Maher on November 01, 2016

The power and beauty of your introduction gave me cause to pause and reflect on the daily experiences that give me cause to pause and feel grateful and apply it to my daily and work life as you suggest

Posted by Margaret Hird on October 31, 2016

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