The very first moment you’re confronted with a challenging situation – that very first instant of recognition – presents a potent but rarely appreciated opportunity to orient yourself in a more effective way than you otherwise might.
Whether it’s a relatively minor challenge such as another interruption from an important-but-prickly client, or a major challenge such as the defection of a key partner or referral source, the second the event hits your consciousness, you can either REACT to it, or RESPOND to it.
This inflection point can influence what happens from the very first seconds and minutes all the way through the unfolding course of the challenge over hours, days or longer. Here’s the difference between reacting and responding: When we react, we are thinking, feeling, and behaving out of patterns born from past experience. Unconsciously, we say to ourselves, “this – or something like this – has happened before. I know what it means and it’s not good. It’s a pain; it’s going to cause big trouble, etc.”
When we respond, on the other hand, we pause for a few seconds, before kicking into pattern-based reaction, and we ask “what is in my enlightened self-interest here? What are my options? How do I want to respond to this challenge most beneficially?” It’s quintessentially human, of course, to react rather than respond to difficult news and events.
But learning to take that pause — and then respond — can save you from traveling down a less-than optimal path. It helps you think more clearly about what behavior will bring you the most good. Maybe you’ll refrain from saying something you’ll regret. Or maybe you’ll take a moment to figure out what you should say that will keep the problem from happening again, or minimize its impact.
At the very least, by responding instead of reacting, you give yourself room to make the smartest move in relation to the situation.