When our kids were little, Mr. People Equation and I sometimes gave them “timeouts”. One thing we quickly discovered is that effective timeouts weren’t about punishment. Instead, timeouts helped our kids figure out when they had crossed a boundary that wasn’t OK to cross. When the Miller kiddos were very young, the boundaries were very simple and succinct- “P, it’s not OK to hit J on the head with your toy fire truck. You will sit on the time out step.”
As the kids got a bit older, the timeout evolved and played a new role. Time spent on the staircase became a physical cue that signaled the need to push the reset button. This was especially helpful when they were having a meltdown. The issue during meltdown time wasn’t so much about crossing an inappropriate boundary as it was finding a way to corral the massive rush of emotion coursing through their little bodies.
As an adult, you’ve likely felt that massive rush of emotion as well. At work, no doubt you’ve itched to sideline a co-worker whose nonsense has reached epic proportions. You’re probably envisioning it right now, “Hey, I wonder if I can get HR to set up a Timeout Room next to the cafeteria?”
So, yeah, other people could use a time-out. And wait, there’s more!
Is there ever a time you need the timeout?
While there are certainly times you can put others in a quasi-timeout (when leading a meeting, you can suggest, “How about if we all take a quick break?”), the real value of pushing the reset button comes with learning self-regulation, which is one of the five components of emotional intelligence at work defined by Daniel Golman.
Do you need to put yourself in a timeout? Here are signs that it’s time to take a break:
- You can’t control the snark
- There’s physical evidence: sweating, clenched fists, headache
- You can’t concentrate
- Annoyed thoughts about co-workers – “If that moron in Finance would just shut up and listen . . .”
- Anger – you feel like a volcano, ready to erupt at any moment
- Lack of willingness to cooperate – “Forget these people, I just want to get this done.”
Timeouts aren’t just for children. As adults we too sometimes need to take break and refocus or redirect our thoughts. It gives us a little breathing space and clarity – the time we need to re-enter the situation with a little sanity and a calmer mindset. So, the next time you feel the steam rising within you or want to give someone a forehead slap, suggest a timeout and adjourn to your personal staircase.
Photo credit: Microsoft