Reacting vs Responding

More often than not, we react rather than respond. The two words get used interchangeably, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. The reaction is the first, usually involuntary, thing we do when presented with stimulus. The response, then, is what we do after that.

A reaction is typically quick, without much thought, tense and aggressive. A response is thought out, calm and non-threatening. A reaction typically provokes more reactions – perpetuating a long line of hatefulness with nothing accomplished. A response typically provokes discussion – perpetuating healthy discussion (debate even) that leads to resolution.

They both start the same way. Someone says something that triggers an emotion. It could be in a meeting, email or over a casual lunch. What happens in the next few seconds however determines the difference between reacting and responding.

Someone who is reacting immediately hits reply and fires of a scathing tirade and hits send before he takes his next breath. A casual lunch conversation suddenly takes a very negative twist ending in uncomfortable silence. A normally calm, brilliant employee resorts to name calling in the daily meeting. Reaction, without thinking leads to destruction.

On the other hand a person who is responding hits reply, types their reaction and never sends it. They take a walk, think about an appropriate way to respond and do so when emotions have died down. They handle an ill-advised comment from a co-worker by focusing on the situation, not the person. They address conflict in the conference room with discussion and understanding. They respond and therefore resolve quickly.

Summing-up: A reaction and a response may look exactly alike. But they feel different. Reaction is quick. Response takes time. Reaction is emotion-filled. Response removes all emotion. Reaction is often aggressive. Response allows for assertiveness without aggression. Reaction snowballs into unnecessary and prolonged periods of discontent and disagreement. Response resolves conflict quickly.

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