Do You React or Respond?
Last week I was in a long line at the grocery store. The line was moving slowly and the man ahead of me was obviously impatient and in a hurry. When the person in front of him didn’t have enough money to pay for her purchases, the impatient man expressed his anger and said some rude, hurtful things to both the clerk and the patron ahead of him.
This unfortunate situation started me thinking about how people deal with tense situations, and the difference between reacting and responding. When presented with a stressful circumstance, do you react or respond? A lot of people think these words mean the same thing, but they are actually quite different.
DO YOU REACT?
A reaction is instinctive and emotional. It comes when we perceive that we are physically or emotionally challenged or endangered or we’re not in control of a situation. We then feel the fear or anger that goes with that perception. When we feel threatened our bodies experience chemical changes that ready us to flight or flee. In the days of the cave man when life really was physically dangerous this reaction was necessary for survival. However, in today’s world, most situations involve neither physical harm nor life-threatening behavior, and reacting can often cause more problems than it solves.
CHOOSE TO RESPOND
When we respond to a situation, we make a choice. The process is mental rather than emotional, and we give ourselves time to think and decide how to deal with whatever is happening.
A few months ago, I worked with a client named Meg who was supervised by a man who enjoyed wielding his power and making Meg feel insecure about her position in the company. Her supervisor’s behavior caused Meg to fear for her job (and the financial welfare of her family) and she dealt with it by reacting defensively and arguing back. Of course, this only served to escalate discussions into confrontations, where Meg always lost because her supervisor had more power.
Meg and I worked together as she learned to put aside her emotions and think calmly about the situation. She is now able to respond in a composed, appropriate manner rather than react and be out of control. As a result, Meg has become known as a clear-headed thinker in an office full of “hot heads.” She creates win/win situations in her interactions with her boss and colleagues.
In order to reduce her stress so she can think and respond instead of feel and react, Meg learned several techniques. When she feels confronted, she now reminds herself to keep her mouth closed and not say anything for a minute or two. This gives her time to evaluate what is really going on, check her perception of the situation to see if it’s valid and choose how to respond. She also takes a couple of deep breaths, which provides extra oxygen to her brain so she can think clearly and gives her a minute to relax her body and mind.
In addition, she has learned an easy, 3-step process that helps her keep calm and able to think. This process is called the Quieting Response, and can be helpful in any stressful situation:
1) Take 3 deep breaths.
- Relax your muscles and say to yourself, “leave my body out of this”.
- Smile! (it’s hard to be angry when smiling) and check your perception of the situation.
(For a free copy of the Quieting Response go to our website at www.insidejobscoach.com and click on RESOURCES.)
So, if you are like Meg used to be and tend to react instead of respond, the next time you’re in a stressful situation you might want to take a minute to use the Quieting Response. Give yourself time to think, check your perception of the situation and ask yourself if a response rather than a reaction would create a more desirable outcome.
Please comment so others can benefit from your wisdom and experience.
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