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 comes across to 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 something 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.

For most people, our reactions when activated are the opposite of how we are when we are going about our daily lives. If we tend to be tactful (putting more attention on the way we come across than on what we are saying) and less frank (saying what we mean in a direct way), we become blunt when activated. If our habit is to be more blunt in our 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 we are strong in both, and can be present enough to notice the reactivity, we can choose our response. We can be frank AND tactful. With that superpower, we can say what we mean and say it kindly enough so that the other person hears it. Now there’s an intelligent response.

When I have the ability to bring presence to a difficult interaction, it is a much different experience. 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 split second, I feel the nudge, I am aware that I am activated, and that pause brings clarity and higher intelligence (from my gut, heart, and mind). In that moment, I often learn that I am afraid. Or angry. But the anger often leads me back to fear.

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

So what if I am actually 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 we communicate from that place, we are demonstrating that we really want to hear something from this person about whom we care. From this place, there is no attack. I’m not a victim. I walk away with my integrity.

And I might even learn something. 

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