HandNo doubt you’ve heard it before—usually with respect to how to respond in a difficult situation—count to 5 before you respond.

It’s sound advice worth considering.

In my work with leaders I spend a lot of time helping them fix problems that were created because someone didn’t apply this simple step. Instead they…

  • Fired off an e-mail rant (and copied everybody who didn’t care or need to know)
  • Said the absolute worst possible thing to someone (and didn’t even realize it)
  • Made a judgement without full information (and neither asked for it nor waited for it to be shared)

The list could go on, but you get the idea.

In each of these situations the “Always Count to 5 First” rule would have helped avoid problems…

If the e-mail had been drafted and set aside for later review with a clearer head, chances are it either would not have been sent at all or would have been edited to make it acceptable. And chances are very good that it would have been kept between those who needed to know (instead of becoming a major time waster for people who are now discussing irrelevant stuff that doesn’t contribute squat to the success of the organization).

Ditto with the second situation. The ‘Always Count to 5 First’ rule would likely have lead to a more appropriate wording of the message, or perhaps a decision not to say anything (an homage to Mom’s ‘if you can’t say anything nice…’ rule). Even better, perhaps the deliverer of the message would realize what they were about to say and learn from the experience to become more careful in choosing their words (a lesson every leader needs now and then).

In the final case, the ‘Always Count to 5 First’ rule would give the person the opportunity to quickly as the most important question they needed to ask—what don’t I know and how can I learn it so that I can make an informed decision regarding the action that I should take in this situation?  Learning to use that internal question before rushing to judgement can save a lot of anguish for everyone.

The message here is simple (and hopefully clear)—if you teach yourself to pause before acting you will be more effective.

Period. End of argument.

ACTION ADVICE:  The next time you’re faced with a situation where you are tempted to take quick action and move on, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Do I have enough information to make an informed decision or is it possible that I am missing something?

2. What are my options for taking action and which would be the best choice in this situation?

3. Did I count to 5 yet?