Are you a Reactor or a Responder?

What happens to you when you are shouted at by a client? When a project you have been nursing from concept to delivery gets shelved… when your train is late…when a colleague steals your thunder…when someone doesn’t listen or understand you?

Do you react? Feel aggrieved? Blame someone or something else? Stop trying? Or do you take a moment and choose how to respond? Do you remember that you and you alone control your attitude and behaviour, regardless of your conditions, and by so doing, can positively influence your circumstances and other people?

If you subscribe to Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s Freedom of Will, Stephen R. Covey’s Habit of Proactivity, or the many ‘control, influence, accept’ models then you presumably always choose the latter.

However, in my experience, this theory is often overridden in practice. It is much easier to fight back instinctively, blame other people or extenuating circumstances for our actions, reactions, success and failure. Rather than choosing to behave in a way that we can be proud of and that is therefore more likely to affect the outcome we desire.  

To become truly accountable and responsible for your life and choices, requires a fundamental shift in mind-set. But, once you focus your time and mental/emotional energy only on what you can control and influence, you will be more effective and ironically, feel more in control.  

So how do you do it?

1.    Recall a situation that you feel didn’t work out well for you e.g. a frustrating conversation with someone you manage, a client engagement that left you feeling misunderstood or undervalued

2.    Re-run the experience in your head and identify:

a.    the triggers that caused you to react e.g. the other person’s language, body language, the rain, the traffic, missed breakfast

b.    what you thought and felt in response to these triggers e.g. angry, upset, undermined, embarrassed, defensive, assumed negative intent

c.     how you reacted as a result e.g. stopped listening, became passive, aggressive or a combination, raised your voice, blamed everyone/everything

d.    the consequences of your reaction/action – a missed opportunity, break down in relationship, lost time, unnecessary distraction of time

e.     the alternative outcomes had you chosen your response rather than reacted.

3.    Commit to changing your behaviour – the next time you experience one of these triggers, how could you respond differently to ensure a positive outcome? Focus on what you can control and influence by thinking through the following:

a.    What outcome are you seeking?

b.    How do you need to behave to achieve it? Do you need to adjust your language (body and verbal), to listen more, pause before you answer, ask more questions etc.? Do you need to take a totally different approach? How can you adjust your behaviour to influence others?

c.     What attitude do you need to take? Will you banish negative assumptions, strive to identify the opportunities, open your mind to different solutions? Will you proactively look for positive signs in someone else’s attitude and behaviour that you can build on?

4.    Respond with equanimity, to what is beyond your control.

It is not easy to remember that you have a choice about how you respond to every situation when you are under fire, exhausted and stressed. Or when you are taken by surprise by someone else’s attitude and behaviour. But when you do remember, try and take a deep breath and use the time and space to respond in a way that is you at your