Monday, January 24, 2011

The One Second Rule

How many times have these words flashed through your mind: "I wish I could take back what I just said!"?  How many times have you worked with a leader on a complicated employee issue only to learn they said something that makes a difficult situation impossible to resolve?  

If only there was a simple way to head off these foot-in-mouth moments.  So much time, energy, and embarrassment could be avoided.

Just Give Me A Second, Literally 

Slowing down to think before we speak is not as easy as it sounds.  Sure, we're professionals and we're supposed to be good at this stuff, right?  But what tool can we realistically offer to the leaders we support that is easy to use and easy to remember? 

The One Second Rule.

I know we're all busy, and have a hectic life full of drama, projects, deadlines and more drama.  However, I have to believe that we all have at least one second to spare.  It's in that one second of time that the magic happens.  Give yourself just one second to affirm, or change, what you are about to say.  Think of the implications:

- one less insensitive remark
- one less racial slur
- one less harsh comment to an employee
- one less arrogant statement
- one less gender-biased remark
- one less homophobic comment
- one moment to lead -> GAINED.


We can not wait to implement this rule.  If we strive to create organizational cultures rich in cognitive diversity as Joe Gerstandt so effectively describes, then we can ill afford to have our leaders cutting off these opportunities before they even begin.

Think before you speak.  Give yourself a chance to do the right thing before it's too late and you find yourself wishing you could "have those words back."  

I know it's difficult to do...I struggle mightily with this every single day.


How do you ensure you don't regret making comments that deflate instead of empower?  How do you make the conscious choice to say the right words at the right time to the right people?  How do you invest your One Second?

I'd love to hear from you.

No Excuses.

pics courtesy of and


  1. Nice post Jay. I read something that Stephen Covey wrote about this several years ago. He came across a quote to the effect, "In between stimulus and response lies a gap. In that gap lies one's power to choose a response." He suggests that we absolutely have the power to expand that gap (pause) to respond to anything in a way that is consistent with our values. I would suggest that we always have the ability to pause long enough to quiet unhealthy emotions, and to get to the response that gets us where we want to be. It is simply a choice. But, that doesn't mean that we always act accordingly.

  2. Thanks William. Covey has it figured out. The one second rule has served me well for a long, long time. It's not something that comes naturally for me though. I have to continually work at it to make sure I present the way I want to when I deal with difficult issues.

  3. My time working with union leaders taught me this, and most importantly taught me to run what I was thinking about saying through my personal filter. First,is it sarcastic? They loved to communicate that way, and I think I helped break that chain by not participating that way. Second, does it sound like the company agenda or a management agenda? If it's about the company and not the managers, there is a little more recognition of value. And third, does it move the conversation forward? I don't like to repeat myself, and my kids have taught me that no one likes to hear me repeat the message.
    That's how I invest the second, and it really only takes about that long.

  4. Thanks HRI for the comment. I love the three questions you use during your "second." The concept of a personal filter is terrific, and it sounds like you've had great success using it. Thanks so much for sharing it here.

  5. You're right Jay, very similar to what I wrote. Great minds think alike! Reminds me of a lesson learned in church from your father: "words are like toothpaste out of a tube. Once they are out, they don't easily go back in." Very true, instead of being in such a rush we should all slow down and make sure we are making the right decision. The "measure twice, cut once" mentality.

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