Respond – To say something in return
React – To act in opposition to a force or influence
We react to a lot of negative moments in life. Reactions are often the worst way to communicate with others.
It can upset the person you’re speaking to and end up making a situation worse. Reactions are done without thought and consideration.
It’s communication and action based on a feeling, like the phrase gut reaction. It can come out of a feeling of being attacked, disrespected, or maybe being in fear.
In contrast, there’s something more valuable in choosing to respond. When you read that definition, what do you notice?
What I notice is that there is no intent of opposing. The only intent is to communicate something in return.
The way that communication could be returned can be done without antagonism. It can be done with thought, consideration, and compassion.
Responding vs Reacting
I remember watching a video a few weeks ago. I won’t share it here because I don’t want to bring more attention to it than it’s already gotten.
The clip is about a minute or two long, and it shows a man and a woman preparing dinner. A few seconds into the video, the woman notices the man made a big mistake with preparing the chicken.
The dish was essentially ruined. The woman reacted with loud anger and walked away. I could understand the woman being upset given the mistake was an obvious one not to make.
At the same time, I still had empathy for the young man. That was a situation where the reaction in the moment made both people feel awful, rather than making an already bad situation better.
But how could things have been different? Let’s try a new scenario that’s probably happened in most people’s home.
Someone’s sitting at a table and accidentally knows over a drink and spills it everywhere. Two choices could be made:
1. Reaction - “Look at that mess you’ve made! I can’t believe how (insert insult) you could be!”
2. Response - “It’s okay. Let me get something to clean this up.”
As the old saying goes, there’s no use crying over spilled milk. If you’re unfamiliar with the saying, it means there’s no use being upset over something that’s already happened and can’t be changed.
But sometimes situations in life can be more serious than spilled milk. How do we choose to avoid reactions in these situations?
Here’s a few tips that might help you be more measured in your response and limit your reactions in the future.
3 tips to respond and not react
1. Believe you can manage your emotions
Our ability to manage our emotions plays a role in our communication choice. But did you know your belief in whether you can manage them influences that as well?
A Psychology Today article titled, “Can Emotions Be Controlled”, noted that our beliefs about our emotions influence our psychological wellness.
The author, Marianna Pogosyan Ph. D, mentioned the example of patients with social anxiety. Many often get better through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which changes their beliefs about how well they manage their anxiety.
Dr. Brett Ford, from the University of Toronto, also expressed from his research, that it’s beneficial to believe emotions are controllable.
Though Dr. Pogosyan is also quick to add, that it shouldn’t be done rigidly, and Dr. Ford stated there are some contexts where anger is an acceptable emotion you should allow yourself to feel.
But believing you can manage your emotions will make it more likely you choose not to be overreactive in intense situations.
2. Practice not communicating immediately
In a Mayo Clinic article on anger management, the very first thing they advise is to take a few moments to gather your thoughts before speaking.
We should avoid responding to people until we’re calm. Sometimes that can take doing relaxation exercises.
Other times it might mean getting some kind of physical exercise, such as walking or running, to reduce your stress.
When we’re done being alone with our emotion for a while, then we can be more likely to offer a thoughtful and measured response.
3. Monitor your stress levels
In a Healthline article on How to Control Your Emotions, it was mentioned that stress makes it harder for us to manage our feelings.
As a result, we probably have a more difficult time not being reactive. A part of taking care of your stress to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
Here were a few of the recommendations given:
- Talk and laugh with friends
- Get enough sleep
- Be in nature
- Make time for hobbies
The better you take care of yourself, the better you’ll feel able to choose responding rather than reacting.
Do what’s helpful for you
Choosing to be someone who’s less reactive and more careful with responses isn’t just about being nicer to people. It’s also a matter of making your life easier too.
- You get your point across better without it being lost in your emotions.
- People can respect your thoughtful restraint and be compelled to act better.
- You help yourself to be calmer and happier in life.
Know that you have the power to show restraint when you need to, and that your life can be better off for it.