Do You React Or Respond?
Do you react or respond? Seems like a pretty simple question and initially you may miss the subtle difference between the two choices.
We’ve already established that nearly everything you do, you do by choice. From what clothes to wear to what you do for a living to watching TV or training for a marathon. They are all choices. So what is the difference between reacting and responding? For starters, one is a positive choice and the other is a negative choice. Following up on that, it’s not all about how it makes the other person feel it has just as much to do with how it makes you feel as well. Choosing whether you react or respond can have a dramatic affect on how your day, or life for that matter, unfolds. It can also have an impact on those around you and may just strain those relationships depending on what you choose.
Consider the following scenario:
A member of your family drops a vase and it smashes into a million tiny pieces.
At this precise moment you have a choice as to whether you react or respond.
Choice 1: React
Your reaction is the first thing that comes to you. Those thoughts and feelings that flash over you. You can allow those emotions to guide you as you march “right in there” and try to get to the bottom of it. Usually by doing this you make the other people around you feel uncomfortable, stupid, wrong, and intimidated, whether you intend to or not.
Allowing negative emotions to consume you and to allow yourself to continue acting through them won’t make the vase any less broken. Instead, you have allowed your reaction to one small incident, likely an accident, ruin the entire evening, weekend, or week. You have created a very hostile environment in which everyone, including yourself, feels very uncomfortable, on edge and tense. Depending on the severity of your reaction you may have done a fair bit of damage to those relationships and it can take a very long time to rebuild that connection and trust.
It’s not to say that having an initial reaction is wrong, in fact it’s completely normal. However, running with those emotions and doing or saying things that make others unhappy, as well as yourself, will only cause tension and strain relationships.
Choice 2: Respond
Your second choice is to respond, which is a much more positive approach. You can choose to have an outcome in which everyone walks away feeling good simply by putting a bit of distance between you and the event, either time or physical distance.
In this case when you hear the vase smash into a million little pieces it’s fine to rush in to make sure everyone is okay but once that’s established take a couple of seconds and breathe. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is this really a big deal? Odds are the answer to this question will always be no. There isn’t much in life that is ever REALLY a big deal. Denting a car, smashing a vase, leaving a door unlocked–all not big deals. Are they annoying? Are they unfair? Do they make you feel a bit angry? Sure. But they really aren’t big deals in the grand scheme of 90 years of your life.
- Was it intentional? Likely not. Most people aren’t inherently bad or out to get you. Most people don’t even make it their hobby to just tick you off. A lot of things are done by accident and are completely unintentional. Should people know better? Maybe. But does it help to get angry and act in a way that makes both them and YOU unhappy? Likely not.
- Is this worth ruining a relationship over? My guess is no. There are very few things, none that actually come to mind , that are worth ruining most relationships over. Things are things that’s it. Yes, you can become emotionally attached to things but, for me at least, the personal relationships that I have mean more to me than all the stuff I could ever acquire.
How to respond
1. Space. Create a gap between you and the stimulus, either time or distance. It doesn’t have to be for long but just enough for you to cool down put and things into perspective. Ask yourself the above three questions and decide on how to respond in a way that gets your point across but also leaves you feeling good about the way you handled yourself in the moment.
2. Compassion. Try to put yourself in the other persons’ shoes. How would you like to be treated if it were you that broke the vase? Keeping in mind it was most likely an accident. Would you like to be spoken down to, made to feel stupid, yelled at or disrespected? I didn’t think so. Neither would the other person, I can assure you.
3. Tone. Choose your tone carefully when speaking to someone over an incident that may have upset you. It’s not just what you say but how you say it.
4. Let it go. Once you’ve addressed the situation and have gotten your point across LET IT GO. The vase will be no less broken if you hold a grudge or draw the “punishment” out over a day, weekend or week. You’ve made your point so once it’s cleaned up move on. It comes back to the last question is this worth ruining a relationship over?
What to do when you react
Apologize. Yes, it’s really that simple. It’s not right to “fly off the handle” no matter how unfair you perceive things to be. It’s disrespectful and you can imagine how it would feel if you were on the receiving end, not so great.
To some of you this may come as a bit of a shock but, you’re not perfect. No one is. We all make mistakes, we all say dumb things occassionally, we’re only human after all. Not only is it important to apologize to the other person, it is also important to forgive yourself. Don’t get hung up on it. Take note of how you feel and what you did or said. Remember these actions and feelings the next time you’re presented with a less than ideal situation, and don’t make it a repeat performance.
To say “I can’t help it” or “I’m just hot headed” doesn’t cut it. You do have a choice. Get control over yourself and revel in the feeling of empowerment that comes from it. Choose to feel proud of the way you respond to situations however, don’t expect an overnight transformation this is something that takes work. Treat people with the kindness and respect they deserve and next time choose to respond not to react.
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Photo courtesy of: Kyle May