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Have you ever hit send on an email and then seconds later thought “#&%$, I wish I didn’t do that!”

Or, been on the receiving end of one of those emails and thought to yourself “What was that person thinking?!?”

Unfortunately, at one time or another we have probably all had one of those experiences. And, most likely, if you were the one typing and sending you were reacting to something that upset you or that you wholeheartedly disagreed with – instead of responding with intention.

There is a price to pay for typing and sending too quickly, especially if it happens more than once. Among other things, it can negatively impact your credibility and relationships in the workplace. It is not viewed as professional, people will not take you seriously, and it provides a distorted view of who you really are.

And, unfortunately, if you are a female business leader it just plays into the stereotype that women lead with their emotions and are not capable of handling difficult situations.

So let’s talk for a minute about the difference between a reaction and a response – because that’s really at the heart of the matter.

A reaction is fueled by emotion. There is no goal in the response other than to attack and defend and “get out” those highly charged emotions.

If we take the time to sit back we know the difference – the difference is clear. Reactions come up very quickly and hit us like a sledgehammer – from 0 to 10. This can be destructive when communicating with someone either verbally or in writing. The beauty of email is that we have time to think – so use it! It can be more challenging to have that time when face-to-face with someone.

A response, on the other hand, is a thoughtful (key word “thought”) approach to responding with the goal of accomplishing something – reaching a conclusion or resolution. A response also separates the person on the receiving end from the topic at hand. There is nothing personal in what is being discussed. It is a situation vs. a personal issue.

I had a client who liked to air her feelings over email. When something was upsetting to her or she felt her position threatened she found herself typing it all out. She admitted it felt better temporarily to “get it all out” but immediately after hitting send she regretted it. Even worse, it usually set off a chain of emotional reactions from the recipient, which did not resolve the issue but instead led to what felt like more personal attacks and airing of dirty laundry.

Once we worked together she was able to 1) understand that she was reacting from a place of emotion and 2) separate the person from the issue. From there, she was immediately able to focus on the objective that both parties wanted to achieve, and respond with that at the forefront.

This approach brought about greater results in a shorter amount of time, with more ease and much less stress. High emotional stress can be EXHAUSTING.

The next time you feel yourself wanting to react vs. respond, here are three steps for you to turn it around:

1. The first step is awareness. Pay attention to those situations or incidents where you feel this impulse – is there a pattern? Many times it happens when you feel strong disagreement or you’ve taken offense, feel insecure or threatened, or want to defend an idea or position. Sometimes we’re triggered by a scenario that reminds us of something we’ve experienced in the past, which brings up old thoughts and feelings that might not apply to the current situation.

Once you become aware and can sense if there is a pattern, it will be easier for you to take control, and change your REACTION to a RESPONSE.

2. Put some space between you and your response. You don’t have to reply right away. Take a breath and step away from the computer for a minute.

3. Separate the people from the issue. Think about how you can approach this from a place of resolution and facts – instead of seeing it through a personal lens. Ask yourself how you can channel this into action and craft a response that will help you work together to achieve your common objective.

This technique applies to both written and verbal communications. The benefit of email is that it affords us some time, but if you feel triggered by something someone’s said in person, these steps will also help you set aside your gut reaction and respond in a more productive and professional manner.

I’d love to hear your stories about responding versus reacting. If you’ve put this technique or a similar one into practice, what was the outcome?




*image courtesy of pedrik

2 Responses to “Oh No You D-i-i-i-dn’t!”

  1. JHQ

    I am so grateful for this strategy of responding versus reacting. Too often those who know us well know exactly how to get a reaction which creates no useful purpose. Recently, I did not initially respond or react to an accusatory message from a client . My first REACTION was defensive. I took a step back and realized that the client was unaware of my specifications and procedures related to our project and therefore his reaction was of panic. Once I took the time to think about the situation and what would be an assuring and positive RESPONSE my blood pressure resumed as well! Both my client and I were able to resolve the issue in a calm and productive outcome. No Drama! It was awesome! I cant wait to try this strategy again. Thank you Whitney!

    • whitney-siavelis

      JHQ, thank you for sharing your experience. So great to hear how you turned the situation around and reached a positive outcome with your client. Well done! Best, Whitney


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