Reacting or Responding - Overcoming Problems

By: Brent Neal

Reacting and responding are completely different. They are both avenues of dealing with problems. As a leader or manager of people, the way you overcome obstacles tells a lot about you, especially your decision-making capabilities, management style, business maturity-level, and attitude.

Reacting is instantaneous and is driven by our preconceived notions, belief systems, biases, and predetermined reactions established in our unconscious mind. When reacting to a situation, a person makes a split-second decision and does not take into consideration any long-term effects. Reacting is a survival instinct, like a defense mechanism where you put up your hands to deflect a baseball from striking your face.

Responding is being deliberate because you take in extra information, using both your conscious and unconscious mind. Responding is well-rounded because it takes into consideration the well-being of not only you but those around you. The way you respond to situations is rooted in your purpose, intent, and is core to your value system. This means that you will weigh any long-term effects and are more balanced. When you respond, you choose to slow down and communicate calmly and productively.

“Balanced approach” is a key phrase. Think about instances in your life when you saw a manager berate an employee, or even on a personal-level, a time when a parent screamed out of control at their child. In either instance, the person was not in balance. They were not in control of their emotions. They were reacting, not responding. Do not get me wrong, there are always times in which we react poorly to situations. The goal is to pause, then respond, not react.

Emotions are the center of our reactions. Reactions are feeling based, containing very little logic, and often focused on “self”. Responses show that we have contemplated and reflected on a chosen direction. In business, reacting is detrimental. When someone approaches you in chaos, do NOT react. Stop, listen, gather all the information, process it, think about how to overcome, and then respond. Reacting allows for poor decisions and usually carries a harsh tone accompanied by frustration, anger, resentment, and more. When you react, you make rash judgements, upset others, and belittle and alienate people. No matter how bad they screwed up, how long they are taking to complete a project, or how severe the issue, RESPOND, do not react. When you react, employees do not see you as a leader, but as a bad manager and decision-maker.

From years of research, reaction-based individuals are micro-managers, controlling, and manipulative. They are not in control of their domain. They operate in a mode of surviving, not thriving. And, they do not inspire those around them to do great things. Leaders who respond garner respect, use wisdom, make better decisions, are in control of their sphere of influence, motivate others, and are “accomplishers” who gain success. Making the choice to respond in chaotic situations will guide you on a path of overcoming and conquering.