Go slow to go fast

Written by Julia Menard

For those of you who know Mediator in a Box will know there is a little card within the box which is a “Take a Break” card.  This little card can be used by anyone in a tough conversation who might need to take a break to calm down, rethink things, come back to themselves.

Taking a break as a way to keep the conversation productive is substantiated by a study done by John Gottman.  He and his team tracked fighting couples in the research laboratory, interrupting the couples just as they were escalating.  The couples were told something like there was an audio equipment problem, so a break was required.  The couples were also instructed to not speak with each other during the break, but instead to read some magazines. When the couple was invited back to take up where they left off, their conversations were much better.

In my own life, I have started to interject the idea of taking a break more often.  In one conversation with my daughter, where we were both getting tense, I suggested we both try to be quiet for a few minutes and simply take a few deep breaths. We did, then started up the conversation again.  It made such a difference and we were able to get through our stuck spot and keep going.

I’ve also been using the Take a Break card at my mediations.  I explain that anyone can use the card at anytime and I put the card right on the table in front of them.  Although no one has taken up the card as yet, people seem calmer knowing they have some control about when they could take a break if need be. Overall, I call this strategy “going slow to go fast.”

The one important caveat is that taking a break doesn’t mean abandoning the process.  To be effective with taking a break, it must be agreed to and understood by all participating, that a break means 10 or 15 minutes if need be, not a delay for days on end – or worse – a delay indefinitely.  Taking a break is intended to support our physiology so we engage from a productive place.

What about you?  Have you ever tried to take a break to help the conversation keep going in a positive direction?  Interested to hear what you’ve found works!

About the author

Julia Menard

Have you ever wondered why you can be so calm and rational for your clients, but when it comes to your own life, stress can creep in so easily? That’s the quest I set out on when, after 20 years as a mediator, my own marriage disintegrated. I teamed up with a therapist from Portland, and we wrote a book that captures much of what I’ve learned over the last five years about finding a the calm in the chaos. Hold On To Yourself: How to Stay Cool in Hot Conversations is the result. If you are interested in mindfulness, finding the leader within and engaging the gifts in conflict, then check out my website and sign up for my free monthly newsletter at:

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