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: 


  • 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


  • 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.

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