How to Handle a Difficult Moment by Taking a Mindful Pause


You deal with a lot in your HR role.  As an HR professional, you encounter all sorts of challenging situations. 

Whether it’s a heated meeting, a distraught employee, or a leader who thinks you’re not on their side, as an HR practitioner, sometimes you have to bite your tongue to avoid saying what’s really on your mind!   A knee-jerk reaction may sometimes leave us regretting how we have responded. 

Here’s a quick definition of mindfulness: “Mindfulness is the practice of observing the present state of being without judgment.” 

Here’s what that means in practical terms:  In a given moment, we can observe what is happening within us and around us.  We can do this simply by ‘checking in’ with ourselves – what is my reaction to what is going on right now?  What are my thoughts, how is my breathing, what sensations in my body am I noticing (for example, chest and abdomen are tight with tension).   Am I placing judgment on others and on myself?  

Now, given the above quick explanation of mindfulness, let’s apply some quick tips on using mindfulness to help you through challenging moments.

Let’s paint a picture of an example difficult moment and how you might apply easy mindfulness techniques:

Scenario: Playing the Blame Game

A people leader approaches you in the hallway, and explains with a raised voice that she is upset that her team has been complaining that company communication is terrible about the upcoming office move. They are wasting lots of time chatting about how the move will affect people.   She implies that it’s your fault for not handling this project well and expects you to come with her right now to talk to her staff.

In that moment, it might be challenging to know what to do.  Your back is now up, and you’re angry that this leader hasn’t been attending your communication meetings, so therefore, it’s actually her own fault.  You feel you are being unfairly accused.

How Can A Mindful Pause Help You In Such a Situation?

Mindfulness techniques can be employed in quick moment, even a few seconds. Here are some ideas:

  • Observe yourself. Quickly scan your present state and ask yourself the following questions. How am I standing, what’s my body language? Am I breathing? Or am I tight and tense, barely breathing?
  • Observe the other person, in the case the leader, and ask yourself the following questions. What does she seem to be experiencing? Am I judging her? Or am I assuming the worst?
  • Take one, two or more deep breaths. This will help relax you, so you can think more clearly. It will help get you get centered.
  • Take a quick PAUSE – between stimulus (the leader raising her voice at you) and your response (what you will say in response to her), there is space.

This Space is Yours, You Have the Power to Choose Your Response

During that deep breath, and pause, you will determine your response as best as you can.  As opposed to an auto-pilot or knee-jerk response based on emotion, or speaking without thinking, mindfulness gives you that momentary pause that allows you to come up with your appropriate response.

So in other words,

  • Without that mindful pause, you might respond by saying, “Well if you had come to my communication meetings, we wouldn’t be standing here in this mess.”
  • With that mindful pause, your response might be more constructive, “I see you’re upset, that can’t be fun to deal with. I know you missed the communication meetings I held, how about coming with me so I can give you an update?   If after we do that, I can come see your team, but teams generally want to hear directly from their manager as you have the most influence on their thinking.  I’m sure to support you, and can make sure you’re updated on what you missed.”

So the next time you find yourself in a heated or uncomfortable situation, breathe, pause and observe.  Use that powerful moment between stimulus and response to help you through it.



Wendy Quan, founder of The Calm Monkey, is the leader in training and certifying workplace Mindfulness Meditation Facilitators, and combining change management with mindfulness to help people through difficult change.  CPHR BC & Yukon members get a preferred rate for facilitator training and certification.

Watch Wendy’s past webinars:

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