This Is an Old Story That Serves as a Modern-Day Reminder of How Impactful the Simple Act Of Breathing Is In Enabling Clarity of Thinking
An old dog starts chasing rabbits and, before long, discovers that he’s lost. Wandering about, he notices a panther heading rapidly in his direction with the intention of having lunch. The old dog thinks, “Oh, oh! I’m in deep s… now!”
Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he immediately settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the panther is about to leap, the old dog exclaims loudly: “Boy, that was one delicious panther! I wonder if there are any more around here?”
Hearing this, the young panther halts his attack in mid-strike, a look of terror comes over him, and he slinks away into the trees. Phew!,” says the panther, “That was close! That old dog nearly had me!”
Meanwhile, a squirrel who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the panther. So, off he goes. The squirrel soon catches up with the panther, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the panther. The young panther is furious at being made a fool of and says, “Here, squirrel, hop on my back and see what’s going to happen to that conniving canine!”
Now, the old dog sees the panther coming with the squirrel on his back and thinks, “What am I going to do now?” but instead of running, the dog sits down with his back to his attackers, pretending he hasn’t seen them yet, and just when they get close enough to hear, the old dog says… “Where’s that squirrel? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another panther!”
Moral of this story — Don’t mess with the old dogs! or brilliance only come with age and experience! …. or does it?
Nah, of course not. There are techniques that can help you to relax when under pressure and to think on the spot. These include:
Breathing — this may sound obvious, but deepening and lengthening your breath stimulates a relaxation response which creates a feeling of calm. That sense of calm holds the key to opening your mind to clearer thinking.
Listen and Pause — whether that’s to your own instinct of needing to know what to do or say next as the old sheepdog did, or whether it’s critical to the success of your answer in situations when perhaps you’re being interviewed, or you’re facilitating a Q and A, or you’re delivering bad news, for example, a company restructure which is going to have a significant impact on the lives and careers of the individuals present.
Really listening allows you to be completely present in the moment and is critical to the success of your action or answer. Then pause before you respond — as long as you don’t have a look of panic on your face, you’ll look thoughtful, careful and respectful.
Pause even if you know the action to be taken or the answer to be communicated, especially if you feel under attack. Carrying out an action or blurting out a response without thinking it through will make you appear insecure and anxious. A thoughtful pause reminds you to slow down and collect yourself and your thoughts.
Organise — When having to think on the spot or having to respond to an impromptu question, the idea is to structure your response for clarity, brevity and impact.
By learning a few impromptu response structures, your actions and answers will always be organised and confident. Here are three structures for you to try out:
Impromptu Response Structures:
PREP: Position, reason, example, position. In this model, first state the position of the topic, and then you state your reason for taking that position. Next, you provide an example or story that supports your reason. Finally, you summarise by restating your position.
PEP: Point, example, point. In this one, you start by making a point or stating a key idea or objective. Then you give an example or story that proves your point. Then you wrap up by restating the main idea or your main point. When you’re short on time, this is the way to go.
Divide and Conquer: This requires you to think quickly of a way to divide up your response, choosing between past, present and future problem-solving solutions:
Past: solutions that have worked before, Present: being completely in the moment to be able to react in time with a solution that will work in the here and now — as the old dog did! Future: gathering intelligence to anticipate what the future holds, supporting you in being forearmed with informed solutions.
Then practice these techniques, because as we all know, practice makes perfect. You can do this by applying these techniques to everyday situations both in work and your life outside of work — maybe you want your child to eat more vegetables — begin by telling them this (stating your position) your reason is, of course, because you want them to grow up to be big and strong, then you tell them the story of the big green giant who ….. (you know where I’m going with this) and then you restate your position.
Practising the techniques when the situation or questions are easy, and you’re not under pressure means you can learn the structures quickly.
Then when you are put on the spot, you can easily relax, listen, organise and respond. Whether you’re attending a meeting, interviewing for a job, presenting a proposal, selling an idea, handling a question and answer session, or dealing with a panther! Being able to respond clearly and concisely at a moment’s notice is a critical professional skill.
I first shared this story some years ago on my original, now-defunct blog: Evolving Careers. I’m sharing it again because I believe it’s as relevant today, and it was all those years ago.