July 17, 2020

The 9-Second Tool that helps us find Kindness.


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We hear a lot about “being kind.”

Our Prime Minister here in New Zealand used it as a motivator for her “Team of 5 million” through COVID-19.

“Be kind to each other,” she said. And generally speaking, after the initial rush on toilet paper was over, people were.

Ellen Degeneres says it at the end of every show, and she is not alone in that sentiment. Many celebrities are on the kindness bandwagon.

It doesn’t seem to hard to be kind to people we like—people we can tolerate even. We can excel in kindness to complete strangers in shops, bars, or over the phone.

But how do we elicit kindness to those whom we don’t actually like so much—to those who seem to be the antithesis of kindness? How about to those who are unkind to us?

These are the ones we most need to show kindness to.

A colleague of mine who was a leadership coach talked to me about the nine-second rule. It didn’t sit well with me as it’s an odd number, but enough about my OCD. The nine-second rule centers around not knowing how to react, or wanting the other person to provide more information before you jump in.

Count to nine. Count to nine, and people find the silence uncomfortable, so they fill it. Which buys you more time before you respond, which reduces the likelihood of sounding like an idiot (marginally), and gives you time to frame an answer or another question.

During a recent confrontation with my ex-husband, I was desperately trying to reach a resolution and close the conversation before it escalated. Suddenly, a comment he made threw me such a curveball it was as if the world had slowed down. As my brain processed what he’d said, my brain was debating the options for a response:

  1. Hit him.
  2. Walk out.
  3. Withdraw my conciliatory offer.
  4. Use my fabulous thesaurus of swear words and then walk out.
  5. Take in air, pause, and deescalate.

In all, this almost out-of-body thought process probably took about the same as counting to nine. In that time, I’d decided to take the latter option.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” I said, and essentially ignored his goading, which left him with nowhere to go and resolved the conversation with a satisfactory outcome before I retreated to the privacy of my car where I then resorted to option four with some enthusiasm.

I am very lucky. I have a new, shinier, brighter husband now. But that’s not to say we don’t have disagreements or times when we wind each other up like a coil. Slowly we are learning to compete with kindness instead of retreating to our respective corners grumbling and snarling.

It’s not about gifts; it’s about consideration and kindness. If you can be kind, choose to be. Be the one to break the silence with a conciliatory gesture—a cup of tea or a hug. Be the one to accept the conciliatory gesture with a thank you or a smile.

It’s a changing world; change it for the good.


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