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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 25, 2010

At work, slow down, take a break and be civil


By Anita Bruzzese

As you check your e-mail, return phone calls, gather materials for a meeting in five minutes and try to ignore the fact you haven't had time to eat lunch, the last thing you may find time for in your busy work day is taking a breather.

Who has time to pause these days? To catch a deep breath when there are ringing phones and buzzing handhelds and deadlines and endless workloads? If you pause, you think, all the balls you're juggling might come crashing down around your head. If you take a take a break, you believe, you'll only get further behind.

But Nance Guilmartin believes that's exactly the type of thinking that has led to so much incivility in the workplace today. The inability to give ourselves a moment to gather our thoughts, she says, is what has led many people to make bad decisions, engage in fruitless arguments and ratchet up the stress.

"We're stretched to the snapping point," says Guilmartin, an executive coach. "What people need to understand is that even though they can't change what's happening, they can change how they handle it. They don't have to be the victim of what they can't control."

Guilmartin says that workers need to learn to stop the habit of "knee-jerk reactions" to situations or people at work, and instead take a minute to consider what they've heard and ask questions to make sure they understand the situation before commenting. She says taking a pause allows us to "tap back into our long-lost common sense."

Guilmartin says there are a number of ways to be more successful and have more impact and satisfaction in our work, simply by changing a few bad habits that have cropped up in a nonstop, always-connected world. Among them:

• Don't react with angry words. Either verbally or written in an e-mail, "you give your power away when you get furious," she says. "You may win the battle, but you lose the war."

• Listen. The workplace today is focused on developing a collaborative atmosphere where ideas are shared to drive innovation.

• Be honest. "If someone comes to you and you're waiting on an important phone call, be honest with them and say that you can give them only 50 percent of your attention because you're focused on the upcoming call."

Write to Anita Bruzzese c/o: Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22107.