Do you react or respond?

Heather Hoopes-Matthews • October 13, 2020

Do you react or respond?  That question felt like a stab to my heart and almost made me fall off the treadmill one evening.  Why? Because in the heat of the moment I react far too often, and later wish I had just kept my mouth shut.

The stress of the pandemic has only made the challenge of providing a “measured response” harder for everyone. We have seen it with clients who have employees responding in highly emotional ways to the surprise of both the supervisor and even the employee.  We have seen it in the news media with raging soundbites.  We have watched it at the grocery store when someone accidentally gets too close or goes the wrong way down the cereal aisle.

Even if we don’t realize it, the pandemic has pushed many of us to our tipping points. And unfortunately, we can shove others over the edge if we burst out with an emotional reaction. What can we do to help this situation?

Reflect on the difference between a reaction and a response
The first is emotional with little thought or consideration. The latter is controlled, thoughtful, and intentional.

When the next offense or sticky situation occurs, commit to pausing – even if only for a second – to ask yourself, “react or respond?” This quick pause could save you the heartburn of firing off hurtful words that may feel good at the moment, but cause heartache long after they are said.

Draft a “deferral” line
Determine a canned response that fits your personality and allows you to exit a sticky situation before you blast off a reactive chain of words. For me, I’m going to use something like, “I have so much on my mind right now that I need more time to think about this. I hope you understand.” Then I’m going to zip my lips and exit like the building is on fire.

Discipline your face
One reason I was a news reporter out in the field – and not an anchor behind the desk – is my face too often reflected my thoughts. Even when I could keep my comments to myself, my facial expression gave me up. So consider how you will refrain from rolling your eyes or deploying the death stare the next time someone irritates you. And prepare to put a pleasant smile on your face as you pause to consider “react or respond?” [For some of us, it may require looking down at the ground to talk our face into cooperating.]

These simple tactics will not immediately win an argument. In fact, you might leave feeling like the other person got the last word. But in the long term, a measured response wins every time. You avoid the regret of reactive remarks, and you leave the door open for restoring a relationship or showing grace to a stranger who likely needs it today.

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