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Respond or React? What’s your habit and how can you change it?

In case you didn’t know, most of what I write here, is what I need to hear.


Of late, I’m thinking more and more about my emotional reactivity and the way that is received by the person to whom I am reacting. Even saying that makes me cringe. It is not the person to whom I am reacting; I am reacting to what they are saying (and sometimes to their reaction!). I digress…that’s another blog, I think.

Responding comes from presence.

Reaction comes from projection. 

My reactivity is usually based in fear. I’m in fight, flight, or freeze mode (fun fact: almost always fight, for me); I stop listening intelligently and instead, I spend my time defending. My brain is on auto-pilot, my neural pathways are closing down, and I am in protective mode.

When activated, most people do the opposite of what they do when strolling about their lives. If you tend to be tactful (putting more attention on the way you come across than on what you are saying) and less frank (saying what you mean in a direct way), you become blunt when activated. If your habit is to be more blunt in your day-to-day, reactivity might look like a withdrawal, avoidance, or refusal to speak. A withdrawal might even look like a blunt outburst with the subconscious goal of shutting the other person up.

Here’s the kicker: If you are strong in both, and can be present enough to notice the reactivity, you can choose your response. You can be frank AND tactful. With that superpower, you can say what you mean and say it kindly enough so that the other person receives it without the need to defend themself. Now that’s an intelligent response.

When I have the ability to bring presence to a difficult interaction, I experience the interaction differently than when I am not paying attention. Presence allows me to feel the nudge of discomfort ~ it is always a physical sensation in my body ~ which I then get curious about. In a matter of seconds, I feel the nudge, am aware that I am activated, and that pause brings clarity and higher intelligence (from my gut, heart, and mind). 

In that moment, I learn that I am afraid. Or angry. But the anger often leads me back to fear. And maybe it is something else.

Learning to pay attention to this has taken some time. This is not intuitive for me.

What happens when I am present? The nudge tells me it is time to be curious.

“Tell me more about that. I want to understand your thinking on this.”

“I’m really angry right now and need some time before I respond.”

When you communicate from curiosity, you are demonstrating that you want to hear and understand this person. From curiosity, there is no attack. You are not a victim. You walk away with your integrity intact. 

And maybe you’ve even learned something. 



Christina Granahan

Christina Granahan

Enneagram-informed coach + therapist

I teach you how to use your Enneagram type to realize the relationships and success that you’ve been chasing at work, home, or school. Let's connect and see how I can help you.

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