Think, then act. Don’t react and regret.
When someone at work irritates you, are you able to resist reacting to them?
A coaching client described her challenge in interacting with colleagues. When they asked questions which she thought were irrelevant, she lost her cool, over-reacted, and then regretted it.
But we can choose how to behave when things irritate us. We can react or respond. That choice happens in the moment.
What is the difference between reacting and responding? Reacting is acting automatically with emotion, without thinking. It happens before you can consciously decide how it comes out. Responding is acting with consideration. It is more rational and thought through, and considers the whole of the situation, from all sides.
And how do we move from reacting to responding?
The first step is to notice our inclination to react. ‘Oh look, I want to jump to this reaction’. Unless we notice before we react, there is no opportunity to stop it. This is easier said than done. Learning to notice our impulses requires some discipline and lots of practice.
One way of learning to notice is to use a journal. When a situation arises (or after we have reacted), write about it, particularly what happened before, what was going on in the environment, what was my existing relationship with this person, how was my energy, what was I feeling, what do I think about this type of request, and so on.
The process of writing and reflecting helps us to critically analyse our reactions. The aim of this is that when it happens again, we can register: ‘Oh, this is like the last situation.’
The second step is to stop the impulse to react. Press a pause button. One person I was coaching recently said he put himself on hold when he noticed he was about to react on the phone. Or take a slow, deep breath.
The third step is to notice what has triggered us to react. Was it a value conflict? Was it our confidence, our ego feeling threatened? Was it a personality difference? Or was it because there was a genuine problem with what the person said?
The fourth and final step is to choose an appropriate response. Once we have made the move away from a quick reaction, we can choose how to act. For example, if you feel criticised and notice your inclination to react defensively, be aware that you have a choice – whether or not the criticism is justified – to respond calmly and say: ‘Thank you, I will think about this.’
In a recent blog, Daniel Goleman talks more about how we can learn to notice our triggers. His main point is that our job is to notice the ways of thinking which lead to us reacting. By learning to notice our thought patterns we are more able to pause and respond.
The more we notice what triggers our reactions, the more able we are to respond in the moment.
It has been said: The wise respond. The foolish react. The wise think and then act. The foolish act and then regret.
About the Author
Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes (ACTP). Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.