02 Dec 2018 16:50 IST

Choose your words carefully

The challenge is to go through multiple responses and choose the most suitable one

In a manner of speaking, this is a continuation of my earlier article https://www.bloncampus.com/columns/out-of-syllabus/learn-to-identify-what-youre-sensitive-about/article25526211.ece about pushing a person’s buttons. One key reason why people respond to the various subconscious buttons is because of we have a tendency to respond in an instant, which is more often than not a reflex. Once this response is given, it starts a chain reaction of repartees and responses.

In that context, I suggest everyone practice at least one important behavioural trait as explained by author Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, if not all. The behavioural trait that I’m referring to is called the ‘response gap’ and is described as: “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

This choice of response has tremendous power and a person’s response is invariably a catalyst for subsequent events. In the absence of any response, the stimulus fails to have any effect. This is a universal truth which is, unfortunately, missed by the majority of people. If you were to choose your response, it means that you retain the power to influence the subsequent sequence of events. On the other hand, a response without any thought leads to events over which control is minimal or even nil.

The challenge is to develop this trait consciously till it becomes a habit. There are two parts to this.


The first part is to receive the communication properly. Often, a person is only partially listening when someone else is speaking. The person is usually preoccupied with their response and what they are going to say, to listen completely. This applies to written communication too. Many people tend to skim the content. Apart from such incomplete communication, the effect of a person’s ‘buttons’ influences comprehension. If there is strong, subconscious conditioning of some kind, people tend to comprehend information in a different way than intended. For example, a person who is overly sensitive might mistake a simple question for criticism and their response would then be influenced by such an understanding.

Choosing an appropriate response

Comprehension is not enough. One needs to develop the capability to choose the appropriate response. This is neither easy nor can it be taught. One has to learn based on past responses. One simple exercise to help such learning is to consciously examine your response and the result of the same. After every interaction, consciously review and analyse the result to your response and explore alternative responses and the possible results from that.

As you start doing this regularly, the mind will register better and more appropriate responses to any scenario. This is where the ‘response gap’ becomes critical. You need to give your mind the breathing room required for it to consider and evaluate multiple responses before choosing an appropriate one. As you consciously practice this, it becomes a habit and helps you become effective.

Always remember, the gap matters and use it to choose the best possible response.