Put Out The Fire

3 Steps To Intentional, Effective Communication


The community meeting was getting heated. Tempers were rising, accusations were cast, insults issued, and disruptions were spiraling the meeting into chaos. The leader, trying to take control of the situation, demanded everyone to take their seat and listen (or not only would the meeting would end immediately, there would be no further meetings). Silence returned, but defenses were raised and communication had broken down. Those in attendance did not feel heard or respected and progress was detoured.


Sound familiar?


While this is a generalized version of a community meeting that happened recently, it could have happened anywhere. You may even have your own version of it. Perhaps it’s even happened on a smaller scale within teams you’ve worked with.


Well my brilliant partner, Lia Joy Shepherd, shared with me the other day a strategy she uses in her work with youth, and I instantly recognized the brilliance of it. Thankfully, she’s given me permission to share it with you.



Stop, think, and respond.


“That’s what I’ve been doing and telling the kids to do before reacting/interrupting. It really works. Especially when I’m triggered. Rather than react and say ‘sit down,’ ‘listen up,’ or ‘stop doing___,’ I just stop, think about what is really going on, and respond–rather than defend or react right away”


The fire department used to (and may still) teach the saying, “Stop, drop, and roll” in case you found yourself on fire. In the heat of a moment, tempers and words can often feel like flames, right?


Stop, think, and respond helps to de-escalate the emotions.  


As I thought even more about this simple, three step process, its brilliance began to shine.


This tool is useful for leaders, certainly, but this is a game changer for anyone willing to employ it. Here’s why:


  1. Stop. This first step illuminates the power of the PAUSE. We’re all moving so fast, absorbing so much information, and hearing so many messages, it’s imperative that we pause and breathe. Pause and check in with ourselves. Pause and pay attention to the nonverbal cues. The pause also shifts our brain from the limbic to the frontal cortex so we can process more effectively. It takes us out of the immediate action of fight, flight, freeze, or submit mode.


  1. Think. It is easy to bypass this step. I know I have. Often we don’t feel we have time to think. There are always a million things to do at any given moment, so to pause and THINK? That felt like a luxury. Yet, we need to digest what really happening before we can mindfully and intentionally take action. You know what it feels like when you’re out of the heat of the moment and all the “shoulda, coulda and if only” thoughts start spinning through the highlight reels in our mind.


It’s amazing what happens when we take the pause, and choose not to jump in, make assumptions, or be defensive.


If we all asked ourselves these two questions, I think our relationships would change in transformative ways:

  • What are my intentions in this moment?
  • How do I want the person in front of me to experience me, given what we both need?


And, as synchronicity would have it, I love that I found this post on LinkedIn right as I started writing this blog too! Good reminders, and I love acronyms. Thank you Some’ McCowan. 

  1.   Respond. The difference between reacting and responding is a subtle but major deal. If I’m listening to the other person to truly understand where they’re coming from and then I respond with my thoughts/questions, that’s very different than reacting to the emotional affect or tenor of the conversation.


Here are a few sentence starters that I always have in my back pocket:

  • What I heard you say was… (when I want to clarify to makes sure I’m understanding correctly)
  • Thank you for sharing. That makes me think of… (when I want to make a connection)
  • I hear you. Are you open to hearing another perspective? (when I want to offer some feedback)
  • Say more… (always a go-to. If I’m triggered this allows me to calm down. If I’m genuinely curious and want to hear more. If I’m confused and trying to make sense of what I’m hearing, this always helps.


Will you give this a try? First, take immediate action. Somewhere you can see it throughout the day, write “Stop, think, respond.”


If a situation occurs today, try this method. If you don’t get to try it, write it again each day until you do.


Then leave a comment about your experience. Tell a friend about it and ask them to take the challenge with you. I can’t wait to hear all about it.


Also, our upcoming 10 Week Online Leadership Program goes in-depth around communicating with cultural consciousness and emotional intelligence. If it’s something you’re interested in, check it out here.


Until next time,


Rachel Rosen, the founder of S.P.A.R.K. Community and S.P.A.R.K. Leadership, is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice–all in service of making the world a better place. With love. For justice. 


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