A Coaching Power Tool Created by Kiran Ramnane
(Executive Coach, CANADA)
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. –Victor Frankl
When we face a “situation” in our lives we often have one of two ways to approach this, we either respond to the situation or we react to it.
What is the difference?
To respond is defined as:
- 1. To make a reply; answer.
- To act in return or in answer.
- To react positively or favorably: The patient has responded rapidly to the treatment.
To react is defined as:
- To act in response to or under the influence of a stimulus or prompting: reacted strongly to the sarcastic tone of the memorandum.
- To act in opposition to a former condition or act: composers who reacted against romanticism.
- To act reciprocally or in return.
Being responsive is perceived as positive
Being reactive to a situation is generally perceived as negative
There is a classic Zig Ziglar parable which clearly defines the difference between response and reaction. You get sick and go to the doctor. Chances are good that after an examination, she would give you a prescription with instructions to return in several days.
If, when you walk back in the door, the doctor starts shaking her head and says,
It looks like your body is reacting to the medicine; we’re going to have to change it,
you probably would get a little nervous.
However, if the doctor smiles and says,
You’re looking great! Your body is responding to the medication,
you would feel relieved. Yes, responding to life is good.
To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, there is a huge difference in reacting to medication or responding to it.
When we react to a situation is it is often a fight or flight action, more often than not it is a defensive mechanism. It is reflexive with little thought of the action or outcome. Reaction is usually a response to an emergency or a crisis
When people react, it seems to be defensive. We seem to be at a disadvantage. We are uncomfortable with what is being said or done, and we react. In our reactions, our emotions take a central role.
Being responsive on the other hand usually involves some thought and reflection. It often involves being sensitive but logical in ones actions. While it is still an external spur to a situation, responding is more thoughtful and done with reason behind it. Responding is guided less by emotion and more by logic.
A solid response is one that is got by engaging conversation, listening, learning and then making an informed response.
It is easy to be pulled into reacting; it takes more effort to respond
Often clients come in feeling overwhelmed by a situation and their instinct is to react to the situation. Our role as a coach is to get them to explore that space between the “stimuli” and the response and to think about the most appropriate and logical response.
Using the power of conversation, asking the right questions and letting them find the right responses to the situation is the most effective use of this tool
Helping the client think of the reason for their reactions:
There is a reason that we react the way we do. It can be very helpful to understand our reactions, and perhaps even their origins. Helping the client see the big picture and understanding how the specific situation fits into their overall goals and objectives makes it easier to respond than react. Often asking the question: Are you reacting or why are you reacting can ground the client and give them a quick insight into choosing differently.
Help them pay attention to the outcome of their reactions:
Pay close attention to the results of reactions. When the client sees that reacting usually brings negative consequences they are more motivated to change their reaction to a desired response. Our job as a coach is to help put the situation in context, trying to see what is happening and how the next step will best serve the client or their organization or anyone else involved.
Visualizing a better response:
Help the client visualize better ways to respond. Imagine the actual response and the consequences of this. Also help the client imagine what it would feel like to respond more in keeping with what they want for themself. It is useful to recognize that there are choices. Often reacting comes when one doesn’t know or think that there are other options. When the client begins to see that they always have choices, they can start considering them and the consequences they bring before moving forward.
Take action by balancing logic and emotion:
The best decisions are based on facts and yet are laced with emotion. The goal isn’t to deny ones emotions, but to balance those immediate emotional reactions with thoughts and facts to fill in the blanks. This is the art of response.
I have found this tool very useful as I coach individuals in my practice and at my workplace
Very often a client/coachee comes with an issue and you find they are reacting to the situation rather than carefully analyzing the situation and responding responsibly.
Ken is a middle level manager and works with a small team of 7 people, the team works in a high stress environment and it is not uncommon for the team to be in a state of continuous tension which often leads to conflict and heightened emotional reactions. Ken was finding it hard to make this group work without unnecessary emotion and drama
Ken came to the coaching session asking the question
How can I get my team to think about responding to the stress in our environment and make good choices and decisions and not just react emotionally?
As we spoke some of the themes that emerged were how Ken could get his team to see the big picture. He realized he needed to outline how their specific situation fit into overall goals and objectives of the organization and therefore made it easier to respond.
He also needed to put the high pressure situation in context, explaining to his team what is happening and how the next step would best serve them, the organization and everyone involved.
Learning to balance logic and emotion was a key aspect to getting mindful responses and making better well informed decisions. The goal wasn’t to deny but to balance those immediate emotional reactions with thoughts and facts to fill in the blanks.
Lastly he encouraged the team and himself to ask themselves the key reaction question.
Am I reacting? Asking this question helped ground the team and gave them a quick mental break that often lead them to choose differently.
- What is the difference between reacting and responding?
- What are my reactive triggers?
- How do I help my clients make mindful choices?
- How do I give my clients space to appraise their behavior?
- How do we remind ourselves to be in a responsive state vs a reactive one?
Dr. Leslie Becker Phelps: The Art of Relationships
John Mertz : The Thin Difference