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Reacting Vs Responding:
When it comes to the context of human interactions, communication and relationships, reacting and responding are mistakenly used as synonyms – when really they are different.

Scenario:
Think about it, when your boss sends you an email that rubs you the wrong way, or when you receive a text that offends you, you are inclined to respond immediately and “give them a piece of your mind.”
This is reacting. It is “emotionally charged” as described by Anita Avedian in her anger management essentials workbook. Giving the sender a piece of your mind can be interpreted as an attack – right? There could be insults, and words exchanged that we later regret. After some research here are some brief characteristics of reactions:

They are defensive| Emotionally driven | They are sporadic or instant – Meaning long term effects aren’t taken into consideration | According to psychology today, they are “driven by the beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind.” | They are forms of defense mechanisms| They are normally passive which tend to digress the relationship in question and last but not least | There is lack of a mindfulness element.

However, if we take the same incident and respond to it rather than react to it, then there is a difference. There is time taken to reduce the emotional charge, it’s well thought out and not as harsh as a reaction. Here are some characteristics of responses:

They are thoughtful and contain reasoning |They are logic driven | They are active and tend to progress a relationship because the long term effects are taken into consideration | Takes time | Takes both conscious and unconscious mind to formulate a response.

Big Idea:
The goal is to respond and not to react.

Application:
Now that we have understood what the difference between reacting and responding is, it is advisable to do the latter. It is a healthy way to be mindful, improve relationships, reduce self-sabotage and to be self-aware in different situations. Some wonderful examples provided in Anita Avedian’s Anger management essentials workbook are;

1. Wait. Take some time to cool down before responding. Take a walk, sleep on it, do breathing exercises, walk away – to give you an opportunity to clear your mind.
2. As you wait, journal through your emotions and thoughts. You can draft a response immediately and after some time has elapsed and you have calmed down, go back and go through the draft. Use this as an opportunity to identify the differences in the reaction vs. res.
3. Call a trusted person, vent and brainstorm the appropriate way to respond.

Written by: Anita Avedian, MFT

Many people wonder how a situation escalates so quickly. Questions such as, “What happened?” or “How did he end up leaving?” are asked, yet there is not much success with finding a fulfilling answer.

We live in a society where immediate gratification is part of our daily lives. It is a great challenge for many to take the time to reply to a triggering email or an upsetting voice message. We want to respond right away because the pain is so intolerable. Unfortunately, this is a journey of digging ourselves into a deeper mess.

Reacting

When we react, we are emotionally charged. This is not a good time to reply to the email, or return the phone call. I challenge you to hold off from replying to the email until the following day. In fact, write the draft without sending it, and reread the draft the following day. You will notice how harsh, defensive and/or attacking the initial email sounds. Maybe it’s not that harsh, however my guess is that there is a difference between the initially drafted email and the final email written on the following day.

Responding

Responding rather than reacting requires for you to wait until you have cooled off, and worked through the issue, prior to replying to the situation. It helps to explore and understand what really bothers you about the situation, and if appropriate, you can share your wants or needs with the person. During the waiting process, you can either journal through your own destructive thinking and hurtful feelings (remove comma) or call a trusted person to share your feelings and brainstorm, in order to productively handle the situation. This practice will increase the likelihood of saving important relationships and friendships.

How To Do It Differently

For example, if my supervisor criticizes me at work, I will feel angry and resentful, and I will act withdrawn (reacting). How I can respond is to recognize that my work does not have to be perfect, and that my supervisor was probably only trying to help me (responding).

Another example: I receive a disturbing email. My reaction is to write an entire page in return, defending myself, and venting my frustrations. The consequence would be potentially losing a friendship. On the other hand, when responding, I would journal through my anger, fear, and concern, and work towards understanding what the email triggered in me. Maybe ask myself, “What was this really about for me?” Once I gain some insight, and also try to recognize the writer’s point of view, I would write an email expressing my thoughts and feelings respectfully, and negotiate by requesting my wants.

If you are interested in learning more about reacting versus responding, you can contact one of our clinicians to work with you.