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Reacting vs Responding

Lizard Brain Reaction

What’s your typical interaction with other people and situations when you’re stressed? Do you react or do you respond? Some might ask, what is the difference?

A reaction is automatic and instantaneous. It’s usually driven by ego and our lizard brain, and quite often escalates current challenges.

A response gives space for reflection and consideration. It gives pause for noticing our initial reaction and questioning its truth.

Truth feels like freedom, lies feel constrictive. Once you notice how that physically feels in your body, you can test out your thoughts against it.

Whether you react or respond can drastically change the course of whatever happens after the initial catalyst.

For example, let’s say you’re heads-down working on a project with a deadline of yesterday and your phone rings. You pick it up and it’s a coworker yelling at you about a malfunctioning piece of equipment, which your team manages operations for but you don’t personally work on.

A reaction could come in all sorts of forms:

“What the hell do you want me to do about it? It’s not my job to fix it. Call one of my service techs.”

“Do I look like customer service to you?”

“Screw-you! Don’t yell at me, #$%! You’re not the only one who is trying to get their job done today.”

On the other hand, there are also a variety of responses:

Caller hears: [pause]

Internal monologue while noticing: Hmmm, she sounds pretty stressed. I know that feeling. I’ll let her get it out of her system. How would I want someone to respond to me if the situation were reversed?


Internal monologue: Yikes, Lisa sounds like she’s having a tough day. Guess it’s stuff like this that keeps my team employed. Let’s see how we can improve her day while earning my team some gold stars.

Verbal response: “Hey Lisa, that sounds rough. The quickest way to get this fixed for you is to work with one of my service techs. Let me patch you directly through to one of my best ones and if you’re still having issues, call me back and we’ll figure it out.”

Which one above do you think will garner swift and painless closure?

Be conscious and notice how you interact with others throughout the day. Do you have a tendency to react or to respond?

Responding takes the wisdom to recognize it’s all about what’s going on with them, nothing about you. Responding is not about defending principles or against blame. Nor by responding are you condoning or approving of what’s been said or done by the other person.

It’s simply acknowledging that this is indeed happening, so how do you want to handle it for the best outcome?

Anger met with anger escalates; Fear met with fear escalates. In essence, reaction met with reaction escalates. Response leaves opportunity to quell it.

Anger and fear are no match for compassion, empathy and kindness. My hunch is, when you choose to respond with any of those three, you might end up with a big ol’ apology from the other person.

And if you don’t, at least you’re not adding stress. There’s enough of that in society, no need to create more.


If you want to learn to respond more and react less, I can help you like I have done for my clients. Let’s talk!