While I was never a track athlete, I have witnessed many competitions both in person and on television, given that my husband was a former track coach.

There is always the intense excitement when you see runners in the starting blocks waiting for the gun to go off to signal the race is on.  There is also the heartbreak of a runner who ‘jumps the gun’ which is also called a false start.  Since 2009, runners who jump the gun are immediately disqualified.  Watching it happen can feel cruel as they get no warnings or do-overs.  They are simply done.

I thought about the equivalent in communication. Imagine this. You’ve been working on a project that is incredibly important to you and you want to leverage a meeting with decision-makers to get a green light to move forward. You want to make your mark, be heard, and state your point of view to get buy-in.  As you wait for the meeting to begin you feel yourself ready to jump out of your skin with anticipation. You are invested in having your say before anyone else can get a word in.

This is your time to take a very big breath because if this doesn’t go well, you may not get another chance.  In communication, a false start can mean your tone is frantic and sounds rushed or your thoughts tumble out a bit jumbled and disorganized.

I have certainly had these moments in my professional career and over time I have learned a few things that you can do to avoid jumping the proverbial gun.

  • Practice in advance (shower, the car…) how to succinctly and purposefully frame your comments
  • Review the agenda and know when a good time might be to interject your ideas
  • Spend 3 minutes in mindfulness practice before you enter the room (meditate, calm yourself, breathe)
  • Ensure that what you plan to say will add value and depth to the dialogue (don’t speak to simply hear the sound of your own voice and gain participation points)
  • Listen intently to the flow of the conversation and be willing to adjust your comments based on what you are hearing (you may determine this is not the right time or meeting).

Exuding presence, thoughtfulness, and clarity will ensure you get the right kind of attention for your ideas. Runners who can maintain their form and embody a sense of calm and composure will start well and finish well. The same goes for the rest of us.