How to Appear Wise
Stimulus, gap, response.
You know what the gift of the gab is, even though you may not think you have it. Some of us have it and are, rightly, proud of it. But I think what we really need is the gift of the GAP.
I think we all could use with a bit of this gifting. Like most gifts (talents), it’s not something you are born with but something you develop and hone over time. Having this gift will make you seem more wise, graceful, and humble.
Just so that we are all on the same page, I am talking about what Stephen Covey mentioned in his book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People where he talks about the gap between the stimulus and response.
Here’s Stephen Covey:
“In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose. Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices but we can always choose. We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, our words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles. It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.”
I can relate to this a lot.
I take pride in being able to speak my mind freely and not be stifled by the expectations, emotions and thoughts of others. I used to think that it was something to be proud of. You know, being able to stand up for what I thought was right and good. In the process of expressing my thoughts, some people might get offended (because they can’t stomach the truth or don’t like it when their ignorances were exposed). But, come on, what’s a couple of toes stepped on for the sake of expressive freedom, right?
However, over the past two years I’ve come to realise that there is a better way to maintain freedom of expression without casualties along the way. The main reason behind speaking up is to be heard, so that my thoughts and ideas can be put to action. But if half the room is people who were offended by my speaking out, my ideas would be dismissed even before I presented it. At the end of the day, people don’t make decisions solely based on facts or data but through the rapport and trust they have with the one suggesting it.
No more relationships should suffer due to the lack of conversational tact. You know that advice people always give to married couples? “Shut up.” That rings true even outside the realm of marriage. Stephen Covey was on point here when he advised leaving a gap between the stimuli and our responses.
When you allow there to be a gap between the stimulus (someone challenging your idea) and your response (shouting, talking back) you are allowing yourself to process the new information provided by the challenger. Often, our immediate assessment or view on a matter and situation is limited in its perspective. When we speak up from this limited vantage point, we risk sounding like a fool or an ignoramus.
Spur of the moment responses can be detrimental to your relationships with others, especially in professional situations. It could cut you off form opportunities and progress in the workplace and leave you with a bad reputation. Regardless of the stimuli (someone challenging your idea, you observing a flaw in someone, someone takes a jab at you, etc.), allowing yourself time to think to choose your action may result in a better response.
In Stephen Covey’s words: “it is the choice of acting, or being acted upon.” Choose to act wisely, gracefully and humbly instead of being acted upon by your emotions and fears. Do this and see the respect people have for you skyrocket.
Personally, I started practicing the gift of the gap because I noticed the moments when I had hurt my wife’s feelings through what I have said. As I reflected on what had happened, I realised that some things are best left unsaid (at least for the moment until a more opportune time comes around).
After practicing that in my personal life with my wife, I decided to begin doing it at work as well. As the Creative Lead, my role at work requires me to receive and give feedback to others quite a bit. Often, people would give unsolicited feedback (because everybody thinks they can design. I mean, how hard can it be, right?). While previously I would have pushed back on unsolicited feedback (especially the negative ones), now I give it a moment before speaking up. Sometimes, there are nuggets of truth in the feedback. Things that I’ve missed out for one reason or another.
In the gap between the stimulus and response, I have the option to respond humbly, or arrogantly. In all cases, I’ve found responding humbly to be the higher, better way. Even when I am not wrong! Responding humbly allows me to explain my point of view clearly and calmly and, best of all, it encourages other people to listen. On the other hand, when I respond argumentatively, my points would have been dismissed even before it is presented. When you take it personal, others return the favour.
I wish I could tell you that after practicing the gift of the gap for a year or so now, I’ve become the apple of everybody’s eye. But alas, is not as such. It will take much longer before I am on the guest list of every dinner party in town, but the immediate effect is that I’ve become a better person.
And you can too.
It’s far nicer being a friend than the arrogant jerk in the room.
Creative Lead by day, writer by night, husband throughout. I write about relationships and things that interest me. My views are my own. Check out other things I’ve written.