Learn to Respond Instead of React

How many times have you looked back on a moment and said, “Yikes! I wish I had thought about what I was going to say or at least taken a beat before saying something I now regret…”?

Reacting and responding are very different – and the former is often difficult, especially in our “on-demand” world. Reactions are generally very quick. They are often done without thought, emotion-driven, tense, and aggressive. A response is generally less threatening: you’ve given the emotion some time to process, you’ve waded through the aggression and pain that usually accompanies the lash-out of reactions. The thing to remember: reactions generally lead to more reactions, leading to aggression, and nothing of consequence even accomplished.

When you do something without thinking, you’re letting the unconscious handle everything. It’s in the moment, without regard to the long term effects – and it’s a defense mechanism. Responses involve both the unconscious and the conscious – you’re thinking about the now and the future, all at once, and making an informed decision. How can we start responding more than reacting, especially in times of stress and anxiety when our “fight” response kicks in?

Take a Breath

When it’s your turn to talk, and you’d like to respond instead of reacting, you need to take a breath before speaking. That silent pause and moment will allow you to realize if you say something right now, you will be reacting. Give yourself a moment to catch up and check in with your breath.

Go Big Picture

How does this moment fit into your entire life? What would reacting do for that bigger picture? Would it put something in jeopardy? Use that silent “take a breath” moment to put things in perspective.


One of the best ways to ensure that you are responding instead of reacting? Look at your options and make a choice. Reacting is unconscious, remember? By weighing those options and looking at more than one, you’re going to decide on what you’d like to say. That is choosing to respond versus letting yourself simply react.

Getting Emotional

It’s impossible to remove emotion from the situation. It is possible to make the assertive statement of “I feel” and check-in with how you feel at the moment. Are you angry, frustrated, or annoyed? Negative emotions tend to lead to reactions that might not be the best choice, especially when you’re looking at the situation from a distance. Consider how your emotions are coloring your response and bring in a bit of logic. The best decisions come from a place of emotion and intent, with a side of logic.

Look Forward to Look Back

Go a week into the future. Will what you want to do at this moment seem like “too much” or feel like an outburst more than something that requires thought and reflection? You’re probably leaning towards reaction. Take some time and step back to think about what you want to think about the situation in a week.

Ask for Time

If you know that you are too hot for the moment – like your emotions can’t allow you to respond thoughtfully, you’re too close to the situation, or you’re too upset to reflect – then say you need some time to think about the moment and your response. Use phrases like “Let me think about things” or “I need a few moments to process,” then take that time to center your response on the moment and how you want things to look in a week. Sometimes walking away from the situation is the best response – especially if it grants you the space you need to not react at the moment.



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