Graham Birkenhead, October 14 2021

How are you going to react to this? 

It's amazing how often I see people in leadership positions doing one when the other would have been more appropriate.  These 2 words are often used interchangeably, and you could say that to use one word rather than the other is a matter of semantics.   But, for the moment, let's just entertain the notion that they are quite different and being able to wield them appropriately is a powerful management, leadership, and decision-making tool.

They come from quite different parts of the mind; or brain actually (reactions from the limbic, and responses from the pre-frontal cortex parts).

Reacting is an automatic response to a trigger event, situation, or action. It can be positive, like reaching out to steady someone as they trip.  Some reactions, like that one, are probably more hard-wired, whereas others are more culturally conditioned - like holding a door open for someone behind you.  Reactions are an important part of our survival mechanism and they come from an emotional part of our minds; they help us automatically cooperate with those around us, but they are also driven by fears, biases, beliefs, and prejudices. Reactions are done in the moment to solve an immediate perceived issue or threat; they are driven (most often) by the subconscious mind, and so done 'without thinking'.  We've all had the experience of giving a clever retort, only seconds later to regret what we just said.  That regret is our 'responding' mind kicking in.

Responding comes about more slowly (this can be seconds) - and it comes from the more conscious thinking part of our mind.  As such, our mind considers a wider range of elements - including the voice of the reacting part of our minds - as well as what is going on around us.  More importantly, it takes into account the longer-term impact and implications of what we are about to do.  A response is more strategic. 

The reality is that there is a continuum between these 2 things.   Most decisions have some sort of emotional reaction built into our deliberations. And some reactions can be modified or conditioned over time (sometimes called learning from experience). But the more emotionally drained, tired, angry, etc a person is, the more they will be dependent on, and resort to, reaction because it uses a lot less mental energy (literally the brain burns less calories). 

As a business owner, having a strategic vision, intent, or goal will be very useful in helping you respond appropriately and to seize opportunities when they arise. Or, to react to rapidly evolving situations - or even to hold off on the reaction till you can consciously respond.

How did you react to this article? How will you respond?  I would be interested to know.

Bye for now,


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Have a look at my articles on Doing Strategy and Doing Operations.   Responding and Reacting appropriately are key elements of achieving your strategic goals without slowing yourself down too much in the process.

Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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