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The Teachings of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Habit 1 – Be Proactive (Part 3)

November 2, 2023
The Teachings of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Habit 1 - Be Proactive (Part 3)

Previous articles for this series can be found here.

Another important characteristic of the proactive person is the idea that we have the ability to pause and respond when something happens. When something happens, it’s called the stimulus. It’s the event that starts everything else in motion.

We all have circumstances that can test us. Work, personal, private, etc. But when they happen, they all have one thing in common – they warrant a response. Even if you do nothing at the very moment it happens, that is still a response.

How do you respond when there’s an employment decision to be made, for example? If someone quits or if you need to fire someone, how do you handle that circumstance? Is your knee-jerk reaction to fly off the handle, or do you default to a different response? I’ve heard of some people who have a rule about waiting 24 hours to respond to a big moment or decision.

The Horse Before the Cart

Proactive people tend to pause before they respond. They usually are the people who have the healthiest relationships with people overall. This quality of pausing keeps them from overreacting in the heat of the moment, and that alone helps avoid confrontation when emotions are at their peak.

So is this pause for a second, a minute, a day? There is no one-size-fits-all answer for that, other than to say you’ll need to take a long enough pause for it to work in every instance, and practice it enough that it becomes habit.

If your responses are immediate, they’re more akin to animal reactions, as animals base their decisions on instinct. Humans are the only species with the ability to pause and reflect before making decisions based on rational thought. Can you imagine if you stepped near a deadly snake guarding its eggs, and the snake took the time to weigh the pros and cons of what to do next? “Should I let the human take a few of my offspring? If I try to bite him, he’ll kill me and harm my eggs.” I don’t think so.

Dunder Mifflin

So what about an employee who quits? The proactive person will pause and reflect because every story has a backstory. What I mean by that is your employee may have quit for a reason that has nothing to do with his performance or even his happiness on the job. He may be experiencing a personal crisis or may just be frustrated with something at work that he feels has gone unaddressed. A co-worker may be pissing him off, and he may feel powerless to have the situation changed. Or working a certain shift may be putting too much stress on his home life. His wife may have had an unforeseen change in her shift, and now it has created a scheduling conflict with his kids’ school. Who knows?

All that means is that we don’t know someone’s reasoning, but the smartest thing we can do is be patient with our response and ask questions instead of assuming. The resolution may be within reach. And even if it isn’t, you have tried to find middle ground for what works for the company and also for his situation.

The same is true if you feel you need to fire someone. This often comes in the form of the blame game, where one employee tells the boss about a co-worker’s performance, attitude, tardiness, etc. And what they’re saying may not even be true. That’s another reason to pause. And speak with both the employee and the informant separately to see if the story lines up and makes sense or is simply an exaggeration told out of context. Or worse yet, a rumor.

Space: The Final Frontier

Sometimes, we get caught up in assuming someone’s motivation. We think we know why something happened, when, in fact, the event may have simply been an accident or beyond someone’s control.

That space between something happening and you responding: It’s a beautiful thing if you take the time to appreciate its worth.

Your life and your business are a reflection of how you responded to adversity. Better responses guarantee better outcomes. Remember that humans have the freedom to choose our response because we don’t operate on instinct. We have the ability to think through everything, make an evaluation, be circumspect about how we’re going to respond, and then make a better choice.

Remember to pick up The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wherever you shop for educational material. Next time, we’ll talk about another characteristic of the proactive person.