Five seconds determines whether you get punched

The new guy is going to get punched by that old dude. – That was my first thought.

I was in the men’s bathroom of a homeless shelter.  I was training Steve, a new staff member.

In case you are wondering, the bathroom had tan walls, four stalls and two sinks.  The faint smell of bleach was losing out to “other” odors.

Steve and I were responding to reports that an elderly resident was causing problems in the bathroom.

I provided backup for Steve so he could practice his de-escalation techniques.

Steve charged into the bathroom like a Navy SEAL in pursuit of a terrorist.

Seeing the elderly resident, Steve squared off like John Rambo (in the later movies… when he got cocky).

Then Steve yelled like an Army drill sergeant on the first day of basic training.

Holy Military Similes, Batman!!  Steve needs a lesson in human psychology!!

Psychological Inertia

The first five seconds of an interaction is more important than the next five minutes.

The reason:  psychological inertia.

In physics:

An object in motion will keep moving in the same direction unless acted upon.  If you throw a baseball at someone it will keep going towards the person until it reaches them or hits the ground.  It will not stop in mid-air and fly back to you.

That is inertia.

In human interactions:

A conversation that is going well will keep going well (unless someone screws it up).  A conversation going poorly will keep going poorly (unless someone works hard to turn it around).

That is psychological inertia.

That’s why the first five seconds of your interaction are KEY. Those five seconds set the conversation “in motion.”

If you start with conflict, the interaction will likely continue with conflict.

If you start with empathy, the interaction will likely continue with empathy.

How can you use psychological inertia?

When starting a difficult conversation, make sure the first five seconds set the tone you want.

  • Speak softly.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Start with a respectful term (“sir” “ma’am” etc.).
  • Etc.

You can’t control how a difficult conversation ends.

You can control how it starts, though.

And the start often determines the end!

Watch the short video above to learn more about how to use psychological inertia.  

But what happened to Steve and the old man?

I have learned that if I don’t tell the end of the story, I get vicious hate mail.

So here goes…

  • The old man = I had to take over for Steve (before he got punched). The old man threatened to beat me up (thanks, Steve!).  Eventually I got him calmed down (turns out he was drunk) and he decided to leave for the night.
  • Steve = Steve quit a few weeks later. Last I heard, he was managing a Build-a-Bear kiosk at a mall in Iceland.  (Ok, that’s not true.  Steve did quit, but I have absolutely no idea what he is doing).

Have a fantastic week!



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