Are You Reacting or Responding?

By Trishia Lichauco, Prime Chief of Staff Coach

How often do you feel frenetic? Where entire days, weeks, or even longer, feel like a blur? In times of uncertainty, we feel anxious and threatened. There is a feeling that so much is going on around us—on a national and international level—without our knowledge or control. At a time when speed and perfunctory messages are the new rules of communication, we say what is most obvious on our minds, sometimes without thought and feeling, and without realizing consequences. We function on automatic; we carry out a daily routine that gets us through the day without our trying very hard. This is our survival. Imagine driving a different car every day? We need predictability…we are busy people. And yet, we are striving to understand and take hold of our own worlds hoping to make sense of it.

As a leadership coach, I often witness and observe the diminishing nature of human courage and the increasing dominance of a strangulated sense of self. As we become more fearful, we are on the defense and less open to exploring possibilities. In our jobs, we work in silos and no longer make the time to walk to our colleague’s spaces to have face time, in the true sense of it. Technology offers us great tools to connect, especially when we are apart and when we have a need to connect in an emergency. However, something is definitely lost. In my teens and young adulthood, there was no technology and we were more organized, thoughtful, and considerate. We meant what we said and took time to compose our words. We lovingly and neatly addressed and stamped envelopes as it carried precious cargo – our words. We worked through waiting for snail mail to surprise the recipient on the other end and with bated breath, hoped for a reply. We waited.

There was a time when it was fashionable to wait, when expectations were reasonable, when people were more tolerant of tardiness. Now, everything is at our fingertips–weather reports, emails, texts, photos, a wealth of information (credible or not), etc.  Siri makes sure that we get what we need in an instant. So what do we do when we can’t and don’t have “it” that instant?  We react, we panic, we take things personally, we desperately click the home button of our phones to receive so-called breaking news.

At work, there can be reactiveness without our even realizing it. The tendency to answer an email as soon as it arrives is an impulse that we have taught ourselves over a long period of time. Responding, on the other hand, is waiting. It is either letting the email remain unread or reading it and postponing the answer. This would cause less stress, give us time to have a more informed answer, and it would also train your recipient to wait.  Now, they know that you are not tethered to your phone and just dying to bring your thumbs into action.

Reacting versus responding. In that very moment of not receiving an instant answer, we are triggered by rejection, feel snubbed and dismissed, or simply get annoyed. We do not really know why we feel this way – it is probably because we have set an expectation of ourselves and of each other. We think that everyone has their phone on one hand while they are trying to accomplish something with the other. Then the vicious cycle begins.

What if we allowed time to lapse, thought of something else, assuaged the frantic assumption of being forgotten, and stopped taking things personally? What would it be like to respond versus react?

The coaching process helps us learn to respond. We teach ourselves to step back, take a deep breath, and be confident enough to be more mindful of the next step. We are not held hostage by the fear of being perceived as not being “online.” While all to-do lists were due yesterday, we can make things different and not fall prey to this expectation. As we find ourselves more and more divided and pulled in different directions, especially in the role of Chief of Staff, what boundaries can we set for ourselves so that we start developing a new habit of responding versus reacting?