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The 24-Hour Rule

December 27, 2012 | by Emuna Braverman

Waiting to respond makes an enormous difference in all of our relationships.

We’ve all received them – troubling or even nasty emails from friends or colleagues that make us want to gnash our teeth in frustration, and tempt us to throw something at the wall. My husband has a rule. While I’m ready to fire back an equally scathing response, he waits 24 hours before responding. I bite back the words I have been eagerly formulating in my head.

This gives him time to calm down, time to read the email more carefully and rationally, time to perhaps notice that he misunderstood it, that he missed the emoticons :-)…It gives him time to prevent an emotional overreaction that will only worsen the situation and cause further damage.

Frequently the email turns out not to be as bad as originally thought, to read differently than our early morning blurry eyes told us. Or the perspective of an additional day diminishes its negative impact.

It occurred to me recently that this rule could be applied to almost all situations and relationships, whether the communication is in person, over the phone, via Skype, email or text message.

Let’s say your boss sends you an unpleasant memo (something I certainly have no experience of here at!). Your instinct is to really let him have it. “Doesn’t he appreciate all my hard work?” “I’ve given the best years of my life to this company!” “Just who does he think he is anyway?” But, in this case, it’s not just the relationship at stake; it’s your family’s financial future. The price of an outburst is just too high (although all too common). Yes, you’re frustrated. You may even be in the right. But wait 24 hours where possible before responding. Keep the stakes in mind. (And don’t stew on it while you’re waiting!)

Imagine your child brings home a less than stellar report card (this isn’t always such a stretch!). Perhaps you are annoyed with the teacher. “Why didn’t she let me know earlier so I could have discussed the situation with my son?” “Doesn’t she appreciate all my daughter’s wonderful qualities?” You pick up the phone to call and give her a piece of your mind. But once again, a cooler head should prevail. Your goal is to be effective. Losing your temper with the teacher will not make her your ally in helping your child succeed. You have defeated your own goals.

Likewise, lashing out at the child with the underwhelming report card seems unlikely to result in the desired behavior. Wait 24 hours and then have a calm, patient discussion – reflecting appreciation for the teacher and love and concern for your child.

This rule would make the most difference in our marriages. Yes, our spouses can be annoying (or so I’ve heard). They can say and do things that are really frustrating (or so I’ve heard). We need to strongly resist the temptation to react immediately. We need to gird our energies and harness our self-control. This is where it really counts. Wait 24 hours (this is a corollary to the “Yes, go to bed angry rule”).

Give yourself time to get perspective. Maybe the interaction wasn’t as bleak as you imagined. Maybe the issue will fade in importance. Maybe it’s not so bad when examined in contest. At the very least, you’ll be calmer and more rational when approaching the potential minefield.

The 24 hour rule – a short, simple idea, with unlimited potential to salvage all of our relationships. Not as easy as it sounds but well worth it.


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