The Respond vs. React Trap

Are you are responder or a reactor? 

Just to make certain that we are on the same page, I have extracted the following definitions from the dictionary: 

REACT is:

  • to exert a reciprocal or counteracting force or influence   — often used with on or upon
  • to change in response to a stimulus
  • to act in opposition to a force or influence — usually used with against
  • to move or tend in a reverse direction

RESPOND is:

  • to say something in return: make an answer (respond to criticism)
  • to react in response (responded to a call for help) or to show favorable reaction (respond to surgery)
  • to be answerable (respond in damages)

 

heated argumentBased upon these definitions, reacting feels forceful and powerful.  I can almost feel the heat just from the word. 

Responding feels more like a volley, engaging, exchanging something (such as information and thoughts).

I will be honest–I can be the queen of wanting to react. When I witness the unfair, the unjust, or just plain rude,  I naturally want to react and someone better hope I said my prayers and meditated that morning.   But I don't want to be that harsh woman…that woman who escalates conflict.  I strive to be gentle and one who dissipates conflict.  It has not always been easy and it did not happen overnight.

Following are some of the benefits of responding vs. reacting:

1 – A More Productive Outcome   
Often a reaction is fueled by emotion, such as anger,   frustration, or fear.  Once one of these emotions is introduced into a discussion, the heat of the conversation can escalate to a point where nothing gets accomplished.  Additionally, it is not unusual in this type of situation for two parties to walk away with hard feelings and wishing certain things were left unsaid. 

In contrast, a response is usually calm, even-toned and measured.  The people involved may even state they are unhappy about the situation; however, the emotions are directed at the situation–not at the other person.  The true purpose of the response is to find an outcome that is acceptable to all parties without damaging the relationship. 

2 – Improved Perception 
 
How others view you can be an important aspect of any situation.  These perceptions can influence the groups you are invited to be a part of, the way people interact with you and how quickly you move up the corporate ladder.  Other people’s perceptions of you can be formed very quickly,  sometimes based upon hearsay (what they have heard from others) or it can even be based upon an exchange they witnessed, but were not directly involved in.  Unfortunately, once a person's perception has been formed, it is often very hard to change.

3 – Better Health   
If you usually react strongly to situations, you are possibly subjecting your body to higher blood pressure, heart problems, headaches, skin disorders and digestive disorders.   People who respond to situations are less likely to experience these types of health issues. 

Would you like to start responding instead of reacting?  Following are three tips to get you started:

  1. Breathe!  It sounds simple; however, it is very effective.  Before you say anything, take a few deep breaths to calm your reaction reflex.
  2. Buy yourself some time by asking if you can get back to the person before you say too much.  Then remove yourself from the situation.  Go for a walk, get a cup of tea – do anything to get you out of the situation for a few minutes.  After your break, be sure to follow thru by getting back in touch with the person and completing the conversation.
  3.  If you cannot remove yourself physically, take a mental break.  Shift your internal focus (very BRIEFLY since you are still in the situation) to thinking about a favorite vacation spot, a child, a pet or piece of art – anything that gives you a sense of peace.  Some people find just looking out a window and focusing on the sky can be helpful.  When you return to the conversation, take some of the sense of calm with you.

What other tips can you offer to help other to respond rather than react?  I would love to read your comments below.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin Martineau

Hi Rachel:

I have to confess that I leaned towards being a reactor versus a responder. These are great tips that you have presented here. There are definitely benefits to being a responder.

Thanks!
Kevin
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Rachel

Hi Kevin,

I agree…it is preferable to be in control of our emotions. Few people are.

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Jupiter Jim

Not only have you clearly stated the benefits of responding vs. reacting but you gave three great examples of how we can respond and not react. Typically when someone gets us upset, we feel we need to respond immediately and vehemently. But I have learned that there is no requirement that you think of something on the spot to respond to a rude comment or whatever makes you mad, because you cannot really UNsay what you’ve just said. You cannot UnRing the bell, so to speak. Just hang up the phone or extricate yourself from the situation and respond hours late or the next day. Then you don’t have to say anything you might regret! We’ve all done that and there’s really no need for that if one follows your three steps above!
Thanks,
Jupiter Jim
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Liz K : Success From Home Trainining

Hi Rachel:

What a great post you have here. I must admit there are times I just want to get into a reactive mode and I have in some situations. Honestly, that does not work whether you are right or wrong. It just escalates the situation..I like point number 3 to remove yourself mentally. Sometimes you are not able to physically walk away or get off the phone, but you can chose how you control your mind.

I think in some cases what has helped me is trying to understand the other person even when I know they are wrong. Trying to look at the situation from their point view. Sometimes it could be they are going through a difficult time and you happen to be the next victim they let their emotions on not because they meant or planned it.

I don’t try to be a counselor because I am not one but letting them know that you hear them and quietly letting them express how they feel might help. Its not always easy especially when they want to rain on you (LOL) but it can be done if you want to take control of the situation.
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Andy Nathan

Rachel,

Great article! I wish I read this a few days ago. I was a little reactive with a client recently. Frayed nerves over an item insignificant really. Once I calmed down I responded a lot more intelligently.

Andy
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Rachel

It’s our humanness Andy. I take a lot of deep breaths; however it took me a while to remember to do so before reacting.

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Bennett Rainey

I love this post. Great lists. Simple but well stated information. It’s funny how breathing can help so much in so many situations.
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Rachel

Yes, including keeping us alive LOL

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Holly

I am not sure that I have any thing to add to your list. I do agree that what you have is a great list! Breathe!! so important! It is a process also. I grew up in a home where it was react, react, react… so once knowing where I was I got/get to learn some new skills! It is so much more enlightening to be able to respond rather than react.
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Rachel

My childhood environment was also one of reacting Holly. I did not even realize that there was another option until I was in my late 20s.

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Tiffany

Hi Rachel,

I think we often forget the difference between responding and reacting. Actually, I wasn’t even aware of it. Now that you’ve shared the topic with us, it will be easier to remind ourselves to respond instead of reacting to certain situations. :)

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Rachel

Hi Tiffany,

Now that you are aware, you will notice just how very different the two are :)

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Kyle Quinlan

I really like this article Rachel. There is a huge advantage to responding rather than reacting. I try to stay in a calm state and ready to respond always, but on the occasions I’m a little too fired up, those 3 tips are very good ways to cool off. Thanks for the share!

-Kyle
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Rachel

Thanks Kyle. I have found those deep breaths very beneficial :)

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Fred Tracy

Absolutely, Rachel.

There’s a lot to be learned from contrasting reaction and response. Reaction usually means that emotion has overtaken us, as you mentioned, and we’re about to behave irresponsibly or at least less than optimally.

Making response a part of our lives will affect us in many wonderful ways.Good points. :-)

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Rachel

So true. Reacting implies that we have given charge of the situation to someone or something else. I don’t feel anyone should surrender their control.

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Bryce Christiansen

Hi Rachel,

What good timing we have. The guest post on our blog is about emotional intelligence, which is huge on response vs react.

There can be some serious consequences in the work field when you react instead of respond. Grady above shared a great story about one of his coworkers having to go home after reacting negatively to a customer.

Bryce
Bryce Christiansen recently posted..Boosting Your E.Q.: Steps to Build Your Emotional IntelligenceMy Profile

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Rachel

Well, how is that for synchronicity? I’ll have to pop over to read that post soon.

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Grady Pruitt

I’ve always felt like I react more than I respond, though I have been working on changing this. I have been trying to do a better job of responding to things, though. Especially when it comes to issues between my two children. I realize that I have to be fair to both, so when one tells me something, I try to find out more about the situation before I respond to it.

Thanks for sharing!
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Rachel

Grady, I don’t know if my own experience is indicative but It is a slow process. As I stated, my natural reaction is often to react so stopping to take a moment (to think) is important. It’s probably more difficult with little ones :)

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Grady Pruitt

With little ones, it may be even more important to take a step back!

Quite often, I’ll be in one room of the house and start hearing one yell “Ow” or the other start crying. As often as not, when I start asking questions, it turns out that the one fussing actually initiated it by doing something the other didn’t like, so the other retaliated. If I didn’t stop to dig deeper, all I would have found out was “He hit me!” But by digging, I found out why.

Instead of charging in and taking the first response, by asking questions, I find out what is really going on, and usually have to admonish both — one for hitting and the other for the act that incited the hitting. (This is just as a quick example, but it works in other areas that might involve discipline or “who done its”.
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Rachel

I wonder if, because children move and react so quickly, the adults tend to react. Most people seem to mirror the pace of those they are interacting with.

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