Responding Vs. Reacting


There’s been a common theme lately in my coaching practice with my clients and I thought it would be worthwhile to share this with you. We’ve been having a great deal of discussion about reacting to a situation as opposed to responding.

Can you recall a time when you might have reacted to something or someone and when the incident was all over feelings were hurt and you told yourself you wished you had handled it differently? If you’ve got kids, a life partner, parents, friends, a boss, employees, dog, cat or bird, I’d put money on the fact that you said yes. Don’t despair; reacting to all the challenges life throws at you is as normal as needing to breathe.

The good news is you can turn your unnecessary reactions into responses, if you choose to do so. But before I go any further, let me clear up the difference between an unnecessary reaction and a reaction worth having. When you or a loved one is in harms way, you may automatically react to protect yourself or them and that’s a reaction worth having. When you’re driving in your car and a dog suddenly runs out in front of you, you react by slamming on your breaks so as not to hit the dog. When you react out of pure joy and love with excitement you are in the moment letting your authentic self shine through, having no regrets later as to how you behaved. Okay, maybe you’ll feel a little embarrassed if you really whooped it up, but let’s be honest here, there’s still a smile on your face when you think back about the reaction and you’d probably do it all over again.

With that said let’s focus on the reacting vs. responding to the people in your lives that matter to you the most. Reactions to situations that anger you or make you uncomfortable are quite spontaneous, without much thought and you can have an attachment to the outcome. You can find yourself reacting on assumptions and from your point of view only. Sometimes you may react before the other person has even finished their sentence. And, when you react before you think, you can say things to the other person you didn’t mean to say and not make a whole lot of sense in the process. Feelings are hurt and the whole thing’s a mess until hours or days go by and you’ve finally cleared it up. Or, things never really get cleared up and it festers inside you until the next incident creating yet another reaction. I call this a reaction of chain reactions.

Responding is the opposite of reacting. When you’re willing to suspend judgment for a moment and just listen, you can put yourself in a response mode. Responding is a conscious act and you’re choosing to be fully present to what’s happening. You’re not immediately concerned about the outcome. You’re willing to hear what’s being said, so when the other person is finished you can respond from a place of wanting to find a resolution and the other person feels like they were understood.

There is no question that responding takes more effort. And I dare say that most of us walk around reacting instead of responding, simply because it’s easier. Reacting takes less immediate effort on our brain’s part. Responding forces us to grow which can be scary.

Acknowledge yourself when you respond vs. react even if you started with a reaction. It’s important to take credit where credit is due. That acknowledgement helps you create your new desired habit quicker. Remember, give yourself a break when working on something new for yourself. It takes time and there’s always a period of two steps back and one step forward. Eventually the steps all go in the same direction. That’s forward, of course!

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