Stop signWe are conditioned to think mostly about what we should be ‘doing.’  Certainly, most jobs reward based on what we do.  I understand this.  I have found over time that there is a subtler, and often more powerful, action that is of more value – the act of stopping actions/behaviors.

In the process of coaching individuals, or conducting 360 reviews, I may ask, “What is the one thing you should stop doing that would help you the most?”  Initially, this may catch them off guard, but if I am silent long enough, I often hear things that are very insightful.  “I need to stop being so sarcastic.  I know it can hurtful, and when I do it I come off like a jerk.”

It is often easier to stop some behavior than it is to start a new behavior.  This is particularly true if the person is overwhelmed, and the thought of ‘one more thing’ seems like such pressure.  Stopping is about taking away.  Once we make our brain aware of our desire to stop something, it will help us to track those times when we do something we are wanting to stop.  Depending on the frequency with which the behavior/action occurs, will determine how long it is likely to take us to be successful; it is proportional.  The less frequently a behavior occurs, the longer it will take to be successful.  Also, if we are highly motivated to stop something the greater the chance of success.

Many years ago, I realized that I liked the laughter I got from being ‘quick-witted’ (read ‘smart aleck’) in class, or in a group.  I thought that quick-witted humor was a great asset.  In time, I received some feedback that the impression I could leave, particularly if it was sarcastic, was that I was a jerk.  Great.  It took me many years to overcome the impulse to make ‘smart’ comments at every turn.  Part of the success of stopping was the desire to change the impression I was leaving.  Over time, the bigger understanding was that I didn’t have to make comments about everything.  Sometimes, remaining silent was a more powerful and useful message.  It allowed me to hear others more.  I not only became less of a jerk, but became a more effective leader. Today, I still have those moments when I get a little ‘full of myself.’ That’s when my wife, or a close friend will give me ‘the look’ to signal me to be quiet.  Those queuing’s help remind me of what I need to be doing, or not doing.

There are behaviors that if we don’t stop them will hamper our ability to be in relationship, and/or the ability to be successful.  Some of the areas that are ripe for ‘stop doing’ are:

  • The need to be the smartest person in the room. Whether it is out of an insecurity to ‘prove your worth,’ arrogance, or part of the need to control, people/leaders who possess this trait fail to realize that they often stifle the creativity and critical thinking of the group, contributing to results that are not as good as they could be.
  • Reacting rather than responding. People who use emotional volatility as a tool are unpredictable.  Their lack of predictability contributes to them being less trustworthy.  “I never know what reaction I’m going to get from you.”  One of the by-products of this is that subordinates will withhold information, or ‘slant’ the information to hopefully avoid the repercussions of the emotional volatility.
  • Failing to express gratitude or giving proper recognition. These could be separated, but I consider them similar in their origin.  People who cannot appreciate something that is being done for them, and say “thanks,” and people who can’t give proper recognition impacts the motivation of others around.  They are less likely to give their discretionary energy to the job/company.
  • Not being accountable. Blaming others or circumstances, making excuses.  Not being self-accountable and self-responsible is another way that hampers a person’s ability to advance in their job and be successful at creating and sustaining relationships.
  • Negativity. Some people are naturally more negative.  They ‘get something’ out of always being critical, finding why something won’t work, seeing ‘the worst.’

Often, I work with ‘stopping’ in tandem with, “What behaviors/actions would you benefit from ‘continuing’ or from ‘starting.’  The three work well together to help a person think through the things that they are successful doing, and should continue, the things they really need to ‘start’ doing, and, as we’ve discussed, the behaviors/actions they should ‘stop’ doing.  The ability to reflect on your actions/behaviors that work, don’t work, and that might work better is the ground work to becoming a happier and more successful human being and leader.

To a better you…