The California Stop


When you see a Stop sign, what do you do? Stop? Really?

One day, I came to a four-way stop in my local shopping center parking lot as I cruised toward Target, the first of about forty-seven stops on a busy errand-running day. The van ahead of me turned right; as I turned after her, a police car surprised me by zipping around out of an empty parking lot right in front of me. I was even more surprised when its lights came on.

I’ll never know for sure why Van Lady was pulled over, but the thought occurred to me: I bet, like me, she breezed right through that Stop sign.

I mean, really. Who stops? Completely? (Especially if you’re turning right and you see no cars—come on, admit it!) Unless you recently graduated from driving school and feel smug and self-righteous about your superior skills and etiquette (I’m ashamed to say, that was me at 15: “Mom! You didn’t signal!”), chances are you see Stop signs more as Slow-Down Signs. In driving school, they referred to “not stops” as California Stops.

The thing is, we also talk this way. We’re so interested in getting from Point A to Point B verbally, that wemashallourwordstogetherwithouteverpausingortakingabreath.

Hard to read? Guess what—it’s hard to listen to, too.

Pausing when we speak compares to traffic control. By pausing, we control the flow of traffic (words), we give ourselves a chance to assess the situation and change direction if need be, and we keep ourselves and other participants safe by allowing everyone to breathe.

When we pepper our speech with appropriate pauses—whether in a one-on-one exchange or when presenting to thousands of people—we dramatically increase the chance for clear communication to occur. With pauses:

  • we can hold attention
  • others can listen more easily
  • the message has a chance to sink in
  • everyone thinks more rationally—breathing gets oxygen to the brain, which (surprise!) makes it function better.

So, no California Stops! Well, when it comes to communicating, that is. I won’t police your driving…


Change your communication, change your life.

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