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I Want to Start a Movement: Slow Down

All too often I find myself in a hurry. My to-do list always runs long and it seems to never get shorter even when I cross off tasks. While a lot can get finished in a hurry, there are significant risks.

In the course of daily life or work, problems make themselves visible, but the full picture can still appear unclear. Until you are sure, you are at risk of making things worse. The way to avoid making situations more problematic is to slow down, which can feel like hard braking; and hard braking is never comfortable.

The good news is there are ways to spot trouble and poorly defined problems. The following phrases can help people to slow down, think critically, and dig deeper to the situation at hand:

“People are really stressed out.”

“Things are bad out there.”

“The lack of collaboration is affecting morale.”

“There is a lot of concern.”

These sentences share something in common. They are vague and broad judgmental statements. Pinpoint the triggers and act accordingly to help clarify. We know there is a problem, but we must question what the problem actually is. Until you know accurately, you may gather the wrong data, develop an unnecessary new process, hold the wrong person accountable, or make another error.

For example, if someone says, “people are really stressed out,” it is best to begin asking which people are stressed, when are they stressed, where are they feeling most stressed, and what was happening at the moment they felt stress?

In another potential scenario, if someone says, “things are bad out there,” you can ask where specifically things are bad? What happened that things are so bad? Who knows the details of why things are bad? And so on.

When you start to get clarification, pose some more questions:

· Does the person in distress need your help to generate new ideas?

· Does the person in distress need to step back, slow down, and think for themselves?

Tying these actions back to leadership and workplace culture, be careful to not jump in with advice or solutions. When you do, you create a culture of dependency. You give people the message that you care, but you don’t trust anyone but yourself to solve the problem.

Our role as co-workers is to implement a safe space for conversation and put forth opportunity to explore the problem with a sense of urgency and accuracy. When we do that as a team, we create the best conditions for people to bring their skill, giftedness, and their genius to work.

Slow down now and speed up later when you know where you are going. Consider this true story:

In my last job, the manager of a clinic told me that the HR department was taking way too long to replace therapists who resigned. I heard the red flags right away, the words too long and blaming HR. I avoided jumping to conclusions and asked for the data. I was curious, how slow was too slow? The data showed that HR was taking four weeks from the date of the request to the onboarding of a new therapist. In those days, they needed to forward candidates to the manager, interview, gather references, collect results of criminal history checks, and run the credentials by a state agency. Completing all of that in four weeks was just short of a miracle.

The problem was not the speed of hire, speed was a simply a clue to the situation; digging deeper revealed the full story. The issue was in those four weeks the manager needed to reassign the clients to a therapist who already had a full caseload. The problem was that the treatment of the clients was disrupted. Speeding up the hire process was not possible, so what would help? The manager needed to step back and look at the whole situation. Why were therapists leaving? Was there a way to prevent those exits? To create continuity just in case of a resignation, could clients be assigned to small teams of therapists so that they always have a relationship with more than one. If one left, there would still be some continuity. We needed to look at what else could be imagined to assure quality and reduce stress on everyone.

Look for the triggers. If you do, you are likely to avoid wasting time by reacting to incorrect solutions. You will also avoid the bad feelings which happen when you jump to the conclusion that someone or some department is making a mistake. Simply slow down, ask questions.



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Marian Baldini

Marian Baldini

Ms. Baldini is the CEO of KenCrest, a human services agency that provides services to children and the intellectually and developmentally disabled community.