Respond vs. React

Do you react or respond to complicated circumstances? Do you know the difference?

Every leader has the power of choice.

Certain emotionally charged situations will test your leadership resolve.

  • An unexpected email immediately makes you furious.
  • A colleague dismisses your input which frustrates you.
  • An employee disappoints you by not doing what you ask.

The voice in your head chants “this is totally bad.”

The natural human reaction is to defend yourself or immediately try to fix the situation. Without realizing it, you find yourself spiraling further into the drama of the circumstance.

This is a classic ENERGY leak. We have all been there.

Intellectually, we know our reaction to any experience is our choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to control. We can’t sleep, our stomach is in knots, and the bad situation is all we can think about.

Contrary to what you may believe, you can’t change the situation. It is what it is.

The only action a leader controls (in any circumstance) is if they choose to REACT or RESPOND to the situation. Your choice affects the outcome, one way or another.

Situation * (your REACTION or RESPONSE) = Outcome

Unfortunately, the words respond and react are often used interchangeably in our culture, although they are actually quite different in action.

  • Reacting to a situation is a defense mechanism that is usually thought of in opposition to something. Reacting suggests hostility and the very definition uses the word force. A child reacts to their parent’s scolding. A person has a reaction to a medicine.
  • On the other hand, a response is something we say in return or an answer we provide. When we respond to a situation, we are in control and fully aware of our actions. Responding suggests thoughtfulness, intention and respect, allowing space for positive momentum.

The next time a circumstance triggers a feeling of fear, frustration, annoyance, defensiveness, anger or any other challenging emotion—notice if you find yourself reacting or responding. Apply the 24-hour rule. Give yourself time to quietly practice being aware of the “it’s bad” story you are telling yourself about the situation. Remind yourself that consciously or unconsciously, you are forever giving everything meaning, but you have the power to attach the meaning that is most helpful.

Do you want to be a leader who responds or reacts to complicated circumstances? The choice is yours.

Is there a situation that has you all twisted in knots? Reach out and let me help you RESPOND as the leader you aspire to be.