The Focused Pause

Sallyann Roth 

Family Therapist, Trainer, and Co-Founder of the Public Conversations Project in Watertown, Massachusetts

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

In the work that we do, you'll see that I'm going to be bouncing back and forth between the work and the training because we're trying to have them braided at all times. In the work that we do, there are five or six things that I can think of off the top of my head that are characteristic and without which we wouldn't recognize the work.

One is we rely very heavily on what I call the, "Focused Pause", which occurs when a question is asked and then giving people an opportunity to reflect quietly before anyone speaks. It may seem like a tiny little thing but in American culture, and some other cultures, it is unusual to pause and reflect before speaking and then notice what they've said. This has a few really important effects. It gets people to think about what's really important for me here. It gets people to be succinct in their speaking, which means it is easier for people to listen. When everybody thinks before anyone speaks and is committed to speaking what they have thought of, as opposed to reacting to what somebody else has just said, they are able to stay centered in themselves and notice what they care about. They are able to notice what they want and listen. In other kinds of conversations, people become reactive, and then look back later and say I wish I had done this and instead I spoke of something that wasn't important to me.

We want to give people an experience and a training of really getting it. How they listen differently and how they speak differently. Encouraging them to get it more from their center, more from their heart, more from what really matters and what they care about through the focused pause. I also think it has a democratizing effect, and that is that it stands in the way of what Sarah Cobb and I call, "Effect of the First Speaker". This effect can be described as once somebody speaks, everything is a reaction to or a follow on and if we want to have a truly free conversation that surfaces differences, it's really useful if we can have people who speak without that process. We get a more contributory conversation. And that has an effect on power differences, or perceived power differences.