Reacting versus Responding

Reacting versus Responding

August 8, 2011 Anger Management Communication Skills Empathy Stress Management 0

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.


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 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For example, if my supervisor criticizes me at work, I will feel angry and resentful, and I will act withdrawn (reacting).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.


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