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React or Respond? For Goodness Sake, Choose Respond!


{#/pub/images/ReactorRespond.jpg}Instructions to create messages that destroy value: Open mouth, insert foot.  Instructions to create positive messages that create value: Open mind, open mouth.


I know the former sounds familiar to you.  Have you ever thought about the latter?  That’s the difference between REACTING and RESPONDING.  Responding takes a little time to plan and process, reacting takes no time at all.  Just feel free to pop off!   I’d be realistic and reduce my expectations about making a connection with the person you are communicating with or achieving the results you want, however.


R and R

We are, unfortunately, very used to reacting.  We react since time is often not on our side as we bark orders that have come down from above or conduct “dump it delegation” as we run down the hallway to yet another meeting. We get a weird vibe on that email we just read and send off our reaction without thinking. We bring our baggage from our last boss’ communication style and react the way we always have since “everyone communicates like that.”


Responding is different. We call a time-out to think about our response to make sure we have the facts. We seek clarity by asking questions to make sure we understand the situation. We fill in the backstory without assumptions. We propose our own reaction and gauge the person’s reaction that has the issue. We determine what the next request is that will cause us to solve the issue.   We then adequately respond by using whole communication. 


What Does It Take to Respond?

Responding means that we communicate with whole messages instead of with mixed or contaminated messages. A mixed message leaves important information out inadvertently, like when we react too fast.  A contaminated message leaves out critical information on purpose. We react and choose to leave something out to get a particular response. The mixed message is a communication sin of inadvertent omission. The contaminated message is a communication sin of covert omission. Either way, the communication is not whole and does not set the stage for movement.


Four Components of "Whole Communication"


Using whole communication develops honesty and trust. When you use it, you take responsibility for the message and say:


A.  I see …. (the facts or observations)

B.  I think….(surfacing my assumptions)

C.  I feel …. (my reaction to the facts or observations)*

D.  I need …. (my request of the person)


Most people use partial messages -- one or two -- versus all parts. 


  • Using A, B and C tend to get no action since a request has not been made and people ask, “So what?”

  • Using B, C and D sound like opinion only as it cuts out the why behind the request.

  • The combination of A and D or D only comes off as dictatorial.  

  • C and D sounds emotional and needy since it has no explanation.  (Whiner!)

* Not comfortable saying “I feel?” Then say “My reaction to that is….”


Why Choose Responding Over Reacting?

Jeff Herring wrote an article on stress management in 2005 with some timeless keys about reacting and responding that are meaningful to our thought process.


  1. REACTING causes us to dive into situations without considering the consequences.?? RESPONDING allows us to step back, consider the context and all the available options

  2. REACTING keeps you dealing with the same problems over and over, without achieving any long-term solution or elimination of the problem. RESPONDING allows you to consider the current problem, possible sources of the problem, and the multitude of solutions available when you respond with reasoned creativity.

  3. REACTING escalates an argument and leads to no solutions. RESPONDING defuses an argument and sets the stage to seek solutions.

  4. REACTING restricts our choices and shuts off our brain. RESPONDING opens up new choices and jump starts creativity.



Why would we choose to react versus respond? What good comes out of it?  Sure, in an emergency where a quick response is absolutely required, we can see its merit. But how many of our day-to-day issues are true emergencies?  I’d venture to say unless you are a 911 operator, work in law enforcement or for the fire department, not that many. What will it take for us to think before we speak, to respond versus react?


If we sincerely desire better workplace communication, let’s take minute to think about the goal of our communication. We want a positive result. We want a connection. We want our communication to create some sort of value, not destroy whatever value has already been created. So for the good of all, think before you speak. Choose a thoughtful response over a not-so-thoughtful reaction. 



{#/pub/images/SherriPetroUpdated.jpg}Written by Sherri Petro, President of VPI Strategies & California Miramar University (CMU) Professor Sherri is a professor, accomplished strategist, organizational development professional and executive coach.  She consulted for 13 years in the for-profit, non-profit, and government sectors after a 16 year corporate career.  She teaches the Strategy Capstone as well as Leadership, Change Management and Business Ethics courses in CMU’s MBA program. Her current passion is educating organizations on how to increase organizational sustainability by leveraging the talents and skills of all in multi-generational workplaces. Sherri offers remedies to misunderstandings that result from different belief structures and lack of coherent communication by creating understanding and making connections at the belief level not only at the behavioral level.


Do you have a question for Sherri?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Do you emphasize your own opinions when you give presentations at work?