Cultivate a Wise Response

April 26, 2006

Welcome to the discussion! Respond vs. React

Filed under: Uncategorized — wiseresponse @ 10:00 pm

I had been publishing my thoughts and ideas about Respond vs. React in a regular electronic newsletter, however, the formatting became a bit tedious.  This format should allow better discussion among partcipants around the central idea of Respond vs. React.

What's the difference, you ask?  Plenty. 

A Reaction is an involuntary reflex.  It's quick action directed at a very narrow part of a situation based solely on our experience of it. 

A Response, however, is a more thoughtful course of action based on a broader and deeper understanding of the whole situation. 

An example with discussion questions from my last newsletter:

After witnessing a phone exchange between a business traveler and his boss on a recent flight, I'm more convinced that society rewards reaction rather than response – at least in the short term.

The poor guy sitting in front of me had been through the wringer.  His trip started in China with a flight to San Francisco; fog in the City by the Bay delayed his next segment to Las Vegas.  I met up with him there and our flight to Denver was so late that he was going to miss his final connection, a late-nighter to Miami.  Exhausted from the travel, airports, bad food and hours of sitting and waiting, he had reached his breaking point.

As soon as we landed in Denver, he fired up his cell phone and called his boss.  "I just want you to know this is the last time.  I'm never using the company travel agent again," he blurted, hardly even saying hello first.  He continued his angry barrage with a detailed account of his itinerary and the lengthy delays at each stage of the trip.

His boss immediately sensed the challenge to his travel policy and authority and quickly fired back at his weary employee.  While I didn’t hear exactly what he said, the reaction he got from the man in front of me made it clear that he had neither listened nor empathized.  He felt threatened by his employee's newfound anger and lack of respect – and reacted by arguing that the travel policy and using the travel agent were going to remain his expectations.  As our plane weaved its way to the gate, the conversation continued to degenerate, doing neither person (nor those sitting within four rows) any good.

It struck me how each person had so quickly and thoughtlessly fallen into React mode.  I'm sure the guy had been rehearsing the conversation in his mind for the last hour of our flight and couldn't wait for the wheels to touch down so he could unleash his frustration.  His boss immediately translated this frustration into a threat.  It was obvious to me that neither was going to be happy with the outcome of the conversation. 

Both men reacted to their narrow experience of the situation – neither was able or willing to consider how their actions would impact the other or their long-term relationship.  The boss didn't pick up on the employee's need to vent and the employee didn't see how his brash and angry attack on the policy could be perceived as an affront to the boss's authority.  Each became more entrenched, believing that if they pushed harder, the other would give in or ultimately see it their way. 

Society reinforces this type of reactive behavior.  We're led to believe that if we just push harder, are more forceful, or better at getting what we "need," then we'll be happier and more successful.  Although the employee needed to be heard about the travel problem, he also needed a productive relationship with his boss.  The boss needed to preserve his authority, but also needed a dedicated and productive employee.  Unfortunately, the way they reacted to each other, all of those needs became mutually-exclusive.


  • What were some things that each could have done to better respond to the situation?

  • What did each "need" or "want" from the situation?  How did their actions either further or hinder those goals?

  • As an objective observer, how might you have handled each role differently? 

  • Why are you able to see these solutions and they weren't?


Hello world!

Filed under: Uncategorized — wiseresponse @ 9:37 pm

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