How many times have you reacted to a person or a situation in a manner that you wish you did not ? Emotions get in the way. Personal prejudices and biases get in the way. The STOP model is a great way to unlock self control and enrich our interactions with others.
Before I describe the model, you first need to be aware of the triggers that cause you to react without thinking. The best way to do this is to think back on the last time you reacted in a way that did not serve you or others well. When was the last time you lost self control in a situation with others ? Think about the trigger so that next time this trigger occurs, you can apply the STOP model. Here is a personal example…
Sales calls really bother me, especially when I am working and I have left my phone on expecting an important call. Before I applied the STOP model, very often I would become automatically frustrated and even angry. This I would take out on the person at the other end of the line… the person who is doing a job they are paid to do. In fact, the only thing that I wanted to STOP was the person on the phone. Gently at first “I would just like to STOP you right there…”, and of course they persist to which my frustration elevates, “LISTEN to me, I am not interested. Please take me off your call list.” Of course, they are trained to be tenacious, so they continue, so I lose my self control as my frustration elevates to anger and I shout,”STOP CALLING ME! TAKE ME OFF YOUR CALL LIST, I. AM. NOT. INTERESTED. GOOD BYE!” and slam the phone down. Do I feel great afterwards ? Absolutely not ! Can I concentrate on my work ? With difficulty!
What was my trigger ? The second I felt agitated, had a negative emotional state change – that was my trigger to say to myself STOP model NOW.
Four Simple Steps in the STOP Model
STOP Model Step 1: Step Back
The first step of the STOP model is the most difficult. It requires you to take note of a trigger that could cause you to automatically react and potentially lose self control – whether this is reacting emotionally to a person or situation, or passing judgement on someone based on your prejudices and biases. Stepping back helps you gain a “meta awareness” of the situation and make a better decision about how to proceed. If you haven’t done this before, I recommend you evaluate the most recent experience: establish the trigger and play a movie in your mind on how you could have applied the STOP model. Stepping back is hitting the stop button in your mental processing and basically saying to yourself “I am aware of a trigger that just occurred that could cause me to react. Before I do so, I am first going to…”
STOP Model Step 2: Think
“I am first going to THINK.” This puts you in a state of thinking with a clearer mind. Ask yourself questions like:
- What are my biases in this situation/about this person ?
- What are the facts about this situation/person ?
For example, once I had noted my frustration trigger on the call with the sales person, my answers to the above questions would be something like:
- What are my biases in this situation/about person ? > I don’t believe people have a right to harass me in this way; the job that this sales person is doing is one that I would never want to do.
- What are the facts about this situation/person ? > I know very little facts about the other person, other than to assume that they don’t know how I will react and that they are doing what they are told and paid to do. I also know for a fact that I am frustrated and that this does not serve me well. I know for a fact that the more frustrated I become, the less effective I will be working after the call. I know I get the best from my inter-personal interactions when I am friendly with others.
STOP Model Step 3: Organise
Step 3 of the STOP model then simply requires me to organise my thoughts: filter what is fact vs. presupposition and work with the facts. In the example, I am not interested in what the person has to sell me and I am wanting to carry on working in a resourceful emotional state after the call. I need to be firm and friendly.
STOP Model Step 4: Proceed
Steps 1-3 of the STOP model should occur in seconds- the more you practice it, you can bring it down to split seconds. If you have done this, you have maintained self control. In the example given, now I can proceed with a more positive way forward compared to becoming angry and shouting. First, I develop empathy for the person on the phone, and with a warm smile on my face I say “Tom, I am completely not interested although I appreciate you are doing your job, so please don’t take it personally when I put the phone down. Please so not call back. Have a nice day, good bye.” [put the phone down and carry on working in a resourceful emotional state]
Summary of the STOP Model
The example I gave was one where the STOP model prevented me from automatically reacting out of frustration and creating a worse situation for myself and the other person. I use it in coaching others in a variety of situations. A recent example is a client that battles to be assertive with strong personalities who are more senior than him. His regular loss of self control resulted in an automatic reaction to back off, resulting in him not fulfilling his duties. Role-playing the STOP model several times brought the approach into his awareness, and he is now able to effectively practice being assertive in stressful situations. Another example is a manager that has negative biases about someone in her team. A third example is a husband and wife who are having difficulties and their anger triggers prevent them from having effective communication. The applications of this simple, yet effective coaching model are far reaching.
The essence of the model is to press the stop button to avoid our automatic reaction in situations where that reaction does not serve us and others well.
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