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Responding .vs. Reacting… Or Does It Matter?

Welcome to my monthly leadership blog. Regular subscribers know that I consider anyone who has followers to be a leader. Leaders, therefore, can also be defined as influencers. As influencers, you must be purposeful in responding versus reacting. Do you know the difference? Before I explain, ponder for a moment what that difference might be and which you tend to do most often.

In this digital age, many pride themselves on speed. We seem to want everything right now and immediately. We even have social media platforms that fuel this behavior. Unfortunately, for some, these immediate tendencies have come at the cost of either embarrassment or regret. When this embarrassment or regret comes from leaders, the impacts could negate a lot of great intentions and goodwill by changing the bond or positive performance trajectory of a team. So let us explore the difference between responding and reacting

Responding means to say something in reply. However, I would define responding as saying or doing something in reply because responding is not always verbal. In today's culture, we respond digitally more often than not. Reacting is considered responding or behaving in a certain way as a result of a given stimulus. It is easy to use these terms interchangeably, But for leaders, I would caution you against that. Why?

From a communication perspective, these two verbs, responding and reacting, can take on very different meanings. The 2020 article Reacting vs. Responding by the Kalidescope Group( offered this resolution. "Reacting is a bit different from responding. When we react, many times it is instinctive, reciprocal, or in opposition to a particular situation or person. That reaction may be favorable or not, depending on how you feel. Responding, while technically a reaction, takes into consideration the desired outcome of the interaction." Notice the phrase, desired outcome in the above quote. When we make an effort and take the time to focus on a desired outcome, we are being intentional and responding. Conversely, when we do not focus on a desired outcome, we are impulsive and are reacting.

Think about the latest digital or verbal communication you may have had in response to something when your response was inconsistent with your desired outcome/character or not received well. As you consider it, were you responding, or were you reacting? In being intentional, how could you have approached this differently? What do you see now that you did not see then? In the future, how can you respond and not react? To explore your behavior, you may need to know what triggers you to react instead of respond? That way, you can put guards in place to keep you from reacting when you notice those triggers.

Those questions will help you analyze your perceptions introspectively in hopes of helping you grow as a leader. But, of course, the correct answers can vary by individuals and circumstance. So first, let me offer you some tips designed to increase your chances of responding in the future instead of reacting. They are:

Listening – how well do you listen? Remember that listening is more than hearing. Listening also requires attention to notice what is not written or verbalized. It also takes into account the environment and circumstances.

Scaling - consider how you scale your team as you add staff. For example, do you have the bandwidth( capacity, availability, resources, and time) to handle the speed of communication needed for the size of your team or organization?

Time Management - how can you manage your time so that you can give proper attention to responding.

Pausing – this is perhaps the most significant and consequential of them all. Take a few deep breaths. Use your emotional intelligence to know when you are being baited. And realize that everything does not require a response.

These four actions can help you avoid embarrassment and regret. We will all make blunders and mistakes. How we come back and avoid repeating our mistakes is crucial to our overall success.

"When we make an effort and take the time to focus on a desired outcome, we are being intentional and responding. Conversely, when we do not focus on a desired outcome, we are impulsive and are reacting."

So what are you going to do? Try it. Let me know how it works for you. Please post comments at, or you can email me at I would love to hear from you and offer other techniques if you are interested. So now go forth and #LEADPerpetually.

The information contained in this blog is provided on an "as is" basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or timeliness. To subscribe to these blogs, please visit There you will also have access to a leadership guide that started it all.

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