How To Stop Reacting To Situations And Start Responding
As a leader, your reactions matter. Whether those reactions are verbal, nonverbal, subtle or obvious, the people who look up to you will be impacted by your choices in critical moments. The power of attitude can make a major difference in the way you react and respond to critical stimuli.
Are You A Reactor Or A Responder?
Let's step outside the business realm for a moment to illustrate the power of words. Say you were recently ill and received medication from your physician. At your follow-up visit the doctor either says:
"Larry, you are having a reaction to the medication," or, "Larry, your body is responding to the medication."
Can you see the difference in the words? The same applies when we think about the power of attitude. A reaction can lead to negative consequences, but a response can lead to positive outcomes. Effective leaders understand that the difference between a knee-jerk reaction and a thoughtful response boils down to attitude.
Achieving The Critical "Pause" For Positive Response
Nobody wakes up every single day and sings with the birds like Snow White. We all have good days and bad. But regardless of which side of the bed we wake, throughout the day we do choose our attitude. Even when we are in a bad mood, we can choose to respond thoughtfully (read: positively) by taking critical time to pause before opening our mouths or taking action.
This is often easier said than done. In the face of crisis or extreme circumstances, we often unconsciously react. We may not say a word but we might roll our eyes, sigh heavily, or give other cues that indicate a reaction. So how can we keep a positive attitude and achieve the critical pause needed to remain thoughtful and positive?
I worked with a Vistage speaker who once told me that everything that happens around us is just an event. An event only has meaning when we give it meaning - a powerful statement. We ascribe meaning to the events around us by our choice to adopt a good attitude or a bad attitude and when we think of a stimulus as just an event, it becomes much easier to measure an appropriate response.
In order to achieve a pause period that allows you to take the time to thoughtfully respond rather than react, remember... what's happening around you is, indeed, just an event. Take a moment and think, "This event has happened, now what am I going to do with it?" If we view everything through this lens and remember that we control our reactions, it becomes second nature to take the beat (or two, or ten) that we need to control our response. Again, PAUSE.
Who Has Time to Pause, Anyway?
Pausing is necessary in order to respond appropriately and positively in a situation, but unfortunately, you don't always have the luxury to marinate for long before taking action.
My advice is to do what legendary football coach John Wooden told his players: "Be quick but don't hurry." Even if you only have five seconds to pause, that's ok. Take a deep breath to create the pause and then refocus on the task at hand. The more you practice, the more adept you will be at responding quickly and with a positive attitude, even in the face of crucial or emergency situations.
The length of the pause will be determined by the situation. Sometime it's best to take the rest of the day (or week) to thoroughly and strategically plan out how to move forward. Other times, you'll just need a few seconds to stop those eyes from rolling.
In Man's Search for Meaning - a book I highly recommend - Dr. Viktor Frankl writes, "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Give yourself the space to pause before reacting to a situation, and over time, you will find that regardless of what happens around you, you have the power to choose a positive, measured response.