Reaction vs Response. Which are you better known for? Can you be triggered into a reaction? Or do you calmly consider the options before giving a response?
If you prefer listening to reading, please click here for an audio version:
Reaction versus Response – Background
How often have you reacted to a situation or a challenge and immediately regretted your spontaneous or impetuous “outburst” ?
Or are you one of those “unflappable” people that take everything in their stride? And consider any such stimulation with due consideration? And take some time to choose how to best respond instead?
Depends a bit on our personality, doesn’t it? Some of us just have a “shorter fuse” than others. And then, of course, some of us are just a lot more self-aware, right? You know, better able to control such situations. Irrespective of our personality or our past.
I’ve learned that such self-awareness isn’t inborn. It can certainly have become inbred, if we were lucky enough to have parents or role models that emphasized its value. But most of us have to learn about it and how to implement it through the school of hard knocks.
Reaction versus response. Just two words. But what a difference the right choice of which one at the right time can make.
So What’s the Difference?
I’ve seen the difference between the two scholarly described as:
- Reactions are done on impulse, without putting much thought into it or considering what the end result may be.
- Response is saying something in reply; more thoughtfully and done with reasoning.
Which suit my purpose with this blog perfectly.
In a “soft skills” sense and in the context of our behaviour contributing to or interfering with our ability to influence desired outcomes, appreciating this difference is so important.
The one has us allow a situation or stimulus to trigger an instantaneous reaction. Bang. No thought. No consideration for implications. Shoot. Now. Sometimes with steam coming out of our ears. But sometimes a reaction can also come out quite subtly, almost innocently.
The other has us allow time for a reframe in which we just briefly consider what we might best say to what’s being stimulated first, so there’s no risk of shooting ourselves in the foot.
The role “conditioning” plays
If we explore what might trigger (particularly emotional) such outbursts, we quickly land in the space where it’s useful to understand some of our “wiring”. And more importantly some of our own psychology and the impacts of our “conditioning”.
I love Don Miguel Ruiz’ book “The Four Agreements” because it starts out with such a great outline of how incredibly powerful our conditioning has an impact on our outlook, our beliefs and indeed our sense of self worth. It describes how our home, our family (close and extended), our schools, TV and media, church, people we hang out with etc influences “the way we see things”. And that we usually unconsciously “agree” to these. Making them part of our belief system. And then proceeds to analyse the 4 most common such agreements, offering superb strategies to leverage awareness of them into more appropriate responses and behaviours in our daily lives.
How we process (traumatic) events
HIf we add to that what I’ve learned to be true for the impact of trauma in our lives, we can much better understand or appreciate what’s going on “in there”. When we experience a “normal” event, our resources are able to “process” that without any hassles, add relevant meaning to it and store it in an appropriate drawer for us to recall when required.
However, when we experience “trauma” in an event, our protective fright, fight, flight responses are invoked, enabling us to deal with whatever threat we are facing to keep us safe. But in doing so, traumatic content can get “stuck”, which prevents the aforementioned “orderly” processing and storage.
The reaction to this trauma is stored at a cellular level. And when our senses pick up any form of situation that resembles that “trauma”, even from way back when we were children or adolescents, it can invoke that same protectable reaction and behaviour. Why? Because our then chosen leveraged form of suppression, avoidance, denial etc which worked so well then, will probably do the job very nicely here again right now, thank you.
By the way, I’m using the word trauma quite broadly here, because irrespective of severity, the kind of protective reactions we’re talking about here can be pretty similar.
And so, particularly when we are being challenged or confronted, we think our reaction is coming from our “under control” self. It isn’t always. It can be coming from “deep down” as a protective reaction. I’m sure you appreciate that in such situations, this reaction can be quite unnecessarily inappropriate. Where we shoot first and ask questions afterwards, right?
So reflect back for a moment on a recent such situation, in which you might have reacted inappropriately. Can you perhaps see how the above may have contributed to the outcome you experienced?
The key here is to develop sufficient awareness of the patterns you are still (unconsciously) allowing to play out here. Particularly if you are known to have “a short fuse”. And when you feel confronted or challenged or “being wound up”, or when the stakes are high, o develop a new habit that allows you to create a small gap before reacting. A gap in which you:
- and then only respond.
In the beginning it will feel strange, of course. And you’ll probably forget sometimes. That’s OK. At the end of each day, why not reflect on such situations that played out for you during your day. And assess where and how you reacted and where you responded.
With practice, you’ll notice how you have learned how to avoid reacting. Eliminating the possibility of any old programs to play out without you noticing. Preventing any sabotage by the voice in your head. And how you have replaced them with responding. Having chosen the right (or better) response after some due (however brief) consideration. To allow you much better control of your outcomes.
Reaction versus response – so what?
I’m reminded here of Carl Jung’s famous saying: “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life and you will call it fate“.
Self-awareness is such a powerful gift. I’ve learned that it is a key factor for the start of any personal change. Learning to appreciate how you are wired and when and how you react rather than respond is just a (new) process. One you’re maybe not sufficiently familiar with (yet). But that with practice you will be.
And I can vouch for the fact that this process is worth pursuing and persevering with. Personally from my own journey. And from so many of my clients that have made this transition to be such an important part of their own self-improvement. With excellent, measurable outcomes as a result.
What if you too could?