There’s a Big Difference Between Reacting & Responding.
In the first scenario, you’re just a character in someone else’s drama.
In the second, you’re writing your own book, including the ending.
With each decision: Excuses fall away. Choices abound.
My earliest recollection of learning this lesson was during my early teen years. My father used to say, “We all become products of our environment whether we intend to or not. Choose wisely and guard what you allow into your mind, heart, and what you expose yourself to, from music to friends, to situations you put yourself in or tolerate.”
Like most teenagers’ response, I’d roll my eyes. Little did I appreciate at the time what a “True North“ statement and guiding principle it is for all stages and facets of life.
If we find ourselves in a reactive or unhealthy environment (work, social, or otherwise), we can reevaluate, choose wisely and respond with wisdom. There’s always a broad array of choices.
So often Leadership starts with ourselves and our own choices.
No one really outgrows this lesson. For example, in my later years as a litigation attorney, negotiator, and senior executive, I’ve found myself in plenty of situations of having to make the same choice, over and over again: Whether to react or respond. While it’s sometimes tempting to fight fire with fire – it often doesn’t work to our advantage in the long run.
It’s sometimes an incredibly difficult choice to make, to respond with calm, reserve, and measured words. Here are a few strategies that help me:
- Empathy: Know that the stress of a difficult environment often casts people in the worst light. It’s when they’re most vulnerable, fearful, or reactionary. This is a crowd we don’t want to join. Identifying the underlying trigger/root-cause of their behavior gives us an arm’s length perspective and helps us to design a strategy to resolve or at least navigate the bigger picture.
- There’s Almost Always More Time to Work With than It Feels Like In the Moment: In the heat of the moment and with adrenaline pumping, we often feel “it’s now or never”. Truth is: It’s likely neither and there’s a third choice. We can take a few breaths, appreciate the difficulty of the situation, and allow for a cool-off period before making our final decisions and response(s).
- Get Rooted First: Analyze (outside of emotion and perhaps with the counsel of trusted advisors). Organize. Prepare. Make a Written Plan, including contingencies to reduce inevitable stress and emotions. Then, Execute – methodically.
- Avoid Burning Bridges: As it’s written, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, while harsh words stir anger.” Character speaks louder than any words.
© Kirstin Lowry Sommers