HUMAN RESOURCES / JUL. 19, 2014
version 3, draft 3

How to Respond and Not React in the Workplace

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There is a difference in responding rather than reacting. To respond means to make a reply or to act or answer in return. To react means to exert a reciprocal or counteracting force or influence. It can also mean that you act in opposition to a force or influence. The basic difference is that responding is the more mature way to behave. Kevin Eikenberry is an author and leadership expert who has shared some advice about responding versus reacting in the workplace on his Leadership & Learning website.  

An Example from the Pages of History

Zig Ziglar was an American author, salesman and motivational speaker born in 1926.

His legacy of helping others achieve professional success lives on as his organization continues to provide corporate training and personal development. In Kevin Eikenberry’s article, he relayed an incident when a leadership workshop participant asked him how to get staff members to think more clearly about choices and decisions rather than reacting to situations.

Eikenberry advised that he responded to this participant by sharing a classic Zig Ziglar story. His paraphrase of the Ziglar response is as follows. One word can make a big difference. Zig had related an example of going to the doctor for medication and then returning for a follow up visit. There are two scenarios. In one instance, the doctor explains that your body is reacting to the medication. In the other scenario, the doctor tells you that your body is responding to the treatment. Those two cases show the difference between the two words and behaviors. Eikenberry shared that the difference was key in how he responded to the participant—who was looking for a thoughtful response rather than a rash reaction from his staff. As an expert in the field, Eikenberry shared that there are two parts to his response. First, is learning how to respond rather than react. The second is how to support such choices and habits in others.

An Expert’s Advice on How to Respond Rather Than React

The following listing of six steps is taken from Kevin Eikenberry’s teachings on leadership development. These steps share his advice on how to control your behavior and respond instead of react to certain situations.

1. Expand Your Perspective – Take a moment and put the situation into perspective as it aligns with your overall goals and objectives. As you do this, you will have an easier time responding rather than reacting to the moment.

2. Examine the Context – Even in the moment, take a quick assessment of the context. Analyze what is occurring and how the next step you take will affect you personally, your workplace and everyone around you.   

3. Merge Reason & Emotion – Decisions that are informed by facts and infused with emotion are the best kind. During this process, you can’t deny your emotions. Your goal is to mesh those emotions and the facts into a cohesive and intelligent response.

4. The Key Reaction – If you are reacting to the situation in a negative manner, there is a root reason for your reaction. In the moment, ask yourself why you are reacting. Asking such a simple, yet profound question can turn you around so you make give an intelligent response.

5. Identify Options – Someone who reacts rashly thinks he or she doesn’t have any other option. However, you do have choices in how you respond to situations and conversations. Realizing that you have options—and don’t have to react rashly—gives you the opportunity to consider the consequences to your actions.

6. Cultivate 20/20 Vision – We all know that hindsight is 20/20. However, the goal of the moment is to mentally transport to the future and glance back with imagined 20/20 vision. That will help you decide on the best response to the situation you are in.

Expert Advice on Helping Others Respond Maturely

Kevin Eikenberry advises that after you truly understand the difference between responding and reacting, you can then help others learn how to respond maturely as well. He has defined a simple three step formula to assist others in this process. This formula is especially useful as it pertains to responding versus reacting rashly in the workplace.

# 1: Expect – It is always important to be clear and concise with your communication techniques and behavior. Make your expectations clear to others as it pertains to when and where you expect them to respond rather than to react immediately.

# 2: Model – This second aspect of the formula is vital. If you are not modeling responsive behavior, but rather constantly reacting rashly—you are not going to cultivate inspiration in others. No one will learn the proper way to respond professionally.

# 3: Coach – As you learn how to become proficient at responding rather than reacting, you can then coach others to do the same. Your coaching carries more weight because you will have various experiences of successful behavior to share with others.

Responding intelligently rather than reacting rashly is always the better route to take. Obviously, there will be some exceptions to this rule as it pertains to emergencies when you need to make split second decisions. However, the steps described regarding responding versus reacting, and the three step formula to assist others—as explained by Kevin Eikenberry—is a reliable method to follow in the workplace and in life experiences. As you and your team at work learn how to respond intelligently, you all will make better decisions each day.

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