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Choose the RSVP Pause

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? That moment when an envelope arrives, carrying the unmistakable weight of an invitation with an opportunity inside. Feeling excited, you open the invite. Beneath elegant calligraphy and a touch of gilded edges, lies the quintessential request: “RSVP, which in French is “Répondez, s’il vous plait”— “Respond, please.” 

It seems simple enough, right? An invitation to a love occasion, business event, or a friend’s celebration. Let’s dig deeper. What if we told you this elegant acronym, RSVP, holds a profound lesson for our daily personal and professional lives? A lesson in the delicate art of “responding vs. reacting.” Truly the difference-maker in the outcome of a challenging situation.

Picture this: You’re at work, wrapping up a challenging team project and dreaming of your well-deserved one-week break. Just a couple of hours left in your day, your boss storms into your office with frenetic energy, like a Category 5 hurricane, all up-in-arms, dumping a mountain of last-minute tasks on your desk. His tone implies the fate of the universe rests on you urgently finishing these reports for a last-minute deadline, due for a morning meeting that you won’t be in. Instantly, you feel a rush of frustration, your pulse quickening, fingers tightening around your pen and even without thinking you blurt out, “Oh come on, you know I’m leaving on a holiday this evening. No way this can happen today.” Your boss says, “I know you will figure it out, you always do, and as he’s walking away, he says as his voice trails off, “thanks.” This is a great example of both sides being reactive. 

Maris: As a new vice president in my twenties, this scene happened to me early in my leadership development journey. I lost a staff person over it who quit, due to my reaction. A constant lesson on so many levels decades later. My boss, also the company owner and not a nurturing type, was in reaction to what he was asked to deliver and then I reacted poorly to his demands.  Well things went from bad to worse and a staff person on my team resigned.  I could have reframed the moment and seen it as how much he trusted and counted on me. 

Reaction is immediate, instinctual, and often driven by anxiety, irritation and emotions triggered by past fears, dramas, or traumas, all leading to a two second action that can change everything in your business and personal relationships! My internal alarm system went off, “Warning! Stress!” and with past fears of “not good enough,” I didn’t have the confidence to believe I could get it done in excellence, and I was frustrated the he assumed it could get done without asking what was possible. 

Responding comes from a higher place in our brain — the prefrontal cortex, the realm of reason and thoughtful consideration. It’s where we deliberate, weigh options, make conscious choices and have conscious conversations. We’re in a relationship with someone or something 24/7. We always have a choice! Looking back, I certainly would have taken a different approach, and there were all kinds of possibilities. It can be tough in the heat of the moment.

Ken: We have replayed and used this scenario many times in our work as relational and conscious leadership business strategist, coaches, and trainers. Imagine, the above as if you were Maris in this scenario.  Here is another approach to how it could have gone.

You recognize that this was not typical behavior for your boss. When your initial reaction to your boss bubbled up, perhaps involving a mental image of yourself dramatically flipping your desk, you could also have created an image in your mind that he was secretly a superhero fighting crime at night and needing your super-powers to help to save the day (OK that may be a stretch – you get the picture). Instead of letting  emotions take control, you stop and while your boss is spouting words at you and bringing up negative energy, you take a deep breath, pause for ten seconds, internally face your frustration (without saying a word), notice your tension, and then choose your response from a calmer place. That’s the RSVP Pause in action.  Being the leader you are, you choose to take the high road and realize it’s better to manage the task and more fully address the situation after your trip. Coming from a space of solutions, you smile, nod, and acknowledge to your boss the pressure he must be under and the time challenge of the daunting task. Knowing that a battle in this moment is not the answer, you then address some clarifying questions before he exits and say, “I’ll take a look and get the team on it.” Calmly and quickly enrolling your team members in this challenge and seeing it also as an opportunity, they rally in support and reprioritize other work to complete the urgent project before them. You graciously recognize them, and everything moves smoothly to completion. This is the benefit of responding. 

When life pushes our buttons, it’s easy to fall into the trap of reaction. Reacting in challenging moments can feel justified, yet often leads to regret, hurt feelings, and unnecessary repercussions. Responding, on the other hand, fosters respect, connection, communication, understanding, patience, and calm. It’s an invitation to bring our best selves to the table at work and at home. 

Let’s take this concept of RSVP a step further. Consider those moments when someone’s words or actions trigger a deep emotional response in you. A colleague’s or friend’s offhanded comment feels like a personal attack, or a partner’s forgetfulness stings sharply. In these moments, every provocation, every piece of criticism, and every stressful situation raises past wounds and fears – and they come rushing forward, seemingly demanding a reaction. What if you treated these triggers as opportunities to delve deeper? When your buttons are pushed, see it from a place of curiosity and avoid judging yourself or the other person. Acknowledge how you’re feeling and F.A.C.E. it (Freely Acknowledge Current Emotion) to understand yourself better. Allow space for reflection. Why does this comment hurt? What fear or past experience is it tapping into? Who might this person remind me of? How can I respond from a place of wisdom rather than pain? If you resist exploring the issues, then they will absolutely persist at work and at home! The impact of reaction can be costly! Recognize that moments from your past do not define your present or your future unless you give it authority and choose it. 

When something or someone triggers you, imagine what the other person may be going through as well and accept the invitation to respond rather than react. We can stop, breathe, and mentally say, “I’m taking the RSVP Pause,” a momentary suspension, where we can shift from automatic reaction to conscious response. Remember, the choices we make all day determine our future.

How to Implement the “RSVP Pause”

  1. Assess the Situation: Identify the facts. Ask yourself, “What are the objective facts versus my emotional responses?”
  2. Identify Your Emotions: Recognize your feelings. Ask, “What emotions am I experiencing and why? Does this situation remind me of something from my past?”
  3. F.A.C.E. It: Freely Acknowledge Current Emotions, both in the moment and afterward.
  4. Consider Consequences: Think through different scenarios. What might happen if you react in several ways? What are the benefits of pausing and considering your response?
  5. Choose Words and Actions: Decide on a response that aligns with your values and desired outcome for the situation.

Do you know what’s really wild? Our brains can do all of the above at lightning speed! It’s like having a superpower built right into our heads. Pretty great, right? Our brains can only process positive or negative thoughts at one time. Words and actions cannot be taken back, so why not choose the positive path at work and home?

This isn’t about suppressing our emotions or pretending everything is fine. It’s about acknowledging and facing what is coming up emotionally, understanding their roots, and intentionally choosing how to express them. When we RSVP to life’s invitations, we’re saying yes to growth, mindfulness, and a more intentional conscious existence. 

Think of RSVP as a personal mantra. Next time you feel that surge of emotion — be it anger, frustration, or sadness — take a moment to RSVP Pause, breathe, and respond. It’s a small powerful shift that opens the solution and possibility doors and can transform your interactions personally and professionally from your inner world to the external.

Life will always present us with opportunities to react. Traffic jams, deals gone bad, health scares, snide remarks, forgotten anniversaries — these are the events that test our patience and our character. Within each challenge lies an invitation to RSVP with grace, thoughtfulness, and intention.

When applied to your home and work life, can you imagine what shifts are possible as you and your team and family treat every challenge and trigger as an invitation to respond with the best parts of yourself. In the grand concert of life, the way we respond defines the richness of the music we are creating with our words. Challenge yourself and others around you for one week to take the “RSVP Pause” and Répondez, s’il vous plait! Notice the shift.

Maris Segal and Ken Ashby

Ken Ashby and Maris Segal, known as "America’s Master Connectors," collaborate to coach and consult with executives, entrepreneurs, and rising leaders globally. They leverage relationship marketing and mindset expertise, incorporating head & heart leadership to create meaningful connections and impactful strategies for clients' success. Working across forty countries, they have served diverse leaders and organizations, showcasing their ability to unite populations through cross-cultural marketing and personal development programs. Ken's expertise as an award-winning singer-songwriter led to the launch of a songwriting workshop series fostering creativity and productivity. Certified Executive and Relationship coaches, Ken and Maris guide clients to build high-performing businesses and enhance personal and professional leadership. They have authored several books and have spoken at TEDx Farmingdale in Long Island, NY, embodying a philosophy of human connection as the foundation for success.

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