Powerful Questions Podcast: Are you reacting or responding?
Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Sometimes these two words are used as synonyms, but there is a big difference between the two.
A reaction is something that happens instantly. It is immediate. And of course you don't have time to think. A reaction is driven by your unconscious beliefs, biases, and thoughts. When you say or do something “without thinking,” that’s reacting. A reaction is very much in the moment. And it often causes regret, because you don't really assess the consequences when you are reacting. You can become aggressive, act based on your emotions.
A response on the other hand is something that comes more slowly. It’s thought through by your conscious mind – while also using information from the unconscious. A response will be more “ecological,” meaning that it takes into consideration the well-being of not only you but those around you. It weighs the long term effects of your actions.
Reaction is quick
Response takes time
Reaction is emotion-filled
Response is usually not emotional
Reaction is often aggressive
Response allows you to be assertive without aggression
When you react, you often feel disempowered. You often don't understand what caused your reaction. When you respond, you are less likely to point fingers and attack the other person or to blame them for making you feel a certain way. You think through different options and consider what is best for ourselves and for others.
So how do you make sure you respond?
Count to ten
Give yourself time to think, to analyze your internal reaction – what feelings and emotions are coming up for you? What assumptions are you making about the other person? What assumptions are you making about the situation?
Sometimes we have the urge to react immediately bacause we are in the conversation and we feel like it's our turn to talk. Email or messaging is easier this way – people don't expect an immediate reply from you. But this shouldn't stop you. Ask the other person to give you a minute to gather your thoughts. You can also agree with them to postpone the discussion till you were able to think the topic through. Mostly it is possible, and there's nothing wrong with that.
The more time you bring before your reaction and your actual response, the less you will act under the influence of your emotions in the moment.
Assume positive intent
Most people actually want to be good and to do good. They are not trying to make you angry, or sad, or to do something against you. Always think first: what could be the positive intention behing someone's actions?
Get curious about your reactions, about moments in the past were you regretted your first reaction. Even better: try to observe your emotions in the moment where you feel the urge to react. What is causing the emotion? What are your biggest triggers?
It will take time to learn to respond instead of react – and probably you will never be able to live completely without any immediate reactions. We are all human, and it is very difficult to find all of your triggers, be aware of them and not react. But it is sztill a great journey to embark on to become calmer and more self-aware.