React Versus Respond
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
How often do you just react to something?
Think about the last conflict you experienced- did you react to the situation or respond to it?
This is something most of us don’t question or pay attention to often, but it’s important in understanding just why we act the way we do sometimes.
Often what makes us uncomfortable in conflict is actually our own reaction (or not knowing how to react) or witnessing someone else’s reaction and figuring out how to respond.
This is such a big topic we felt it was really important we address the difference between reacting and responding on the podcast and give you some ways you can identify your choice point between the two.
Beyond this, we’re breaking down some actual facts about what’s happening to you when you are reacting (did you know your IQ drops 10 to 15 points when your body is getting ready to react?!) and some coping styles to adjust your behavior.
We really think you’ll resonate with this episode (let’s be honest, we’ve all reacted in a way we wish we hadn’t before).
Enjoy it at the link below and we’d love to know if you are someone who is working on moving from reacting to responding.
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CrisMarie: Today we're going to talk about reacting versus responding, which is a big topic when it comes to conflict because often what makes most of us uncomfortable is our own reaction that comes up or witnessing somebody else's and then we get into our own reaction and trying to figure out how to respond and panicking in that situation.
Susan: Well, CrisMarie, I think the idea is that whenever we get into a situation where stress is increasing, our level of stress is increasing, and we will reach a point where we are kind of overloaded where we don't know how to respond, and that is really in our model is a critical choice point. But most of the time we're not aware of that choice point and we go to our reactive side so we kind of go into a coping style that we've learned to deal with under stress.
CrisMarie: Yeah, it could be some of you have heard of the whole fight, flight, or freeze. Like I'm going to fight, I'm going to get loud and aggressive, or I'm going to flight like, oh my gosh, get me out of here, or freeze, which just means I am just going to be frozen and not say much. Those are the basics. But we also in our book, The Beauty of Conflict, and also relying on Virginia Satir, we talk about coping styles, coping stances in conflict.
Susan: And the whole idea behind these is that as we grew up and in our culture, we've learned patterns of behavior to cope with stress. And the idea behind those patterns is that we aren't necessarily including everything that is critical to an interaction.
So just an example might be like what's important in an interaction between people is that I'd be aware of what's going on inside of me, that I could be aware of our dynamic, you, the other person, and that I'd be aware of the context or the situation in which that is happening. And in the coping stances, usually one or more of those elements has been negated and that creates an incongruence. And that's actually where what's on the inside doesn't match what's on the outside. And so that's a great example of reactivity.
CrisMarie: Yeah, and what happens is... And you may have even felt this, you may not be aware of it when you're in the moment, but in that reactive place, literally your vision narrows, your IQ literally drops they've found 10 to 15 points because your body is getting ready for a saber tooth tiger when it's just an annoying coworker or a frustrating spouse or whatever. But your IQ drops and you actually have less confidence, less creativity, less ability to think more clearly and be aware of what's happening in me, what's happening over there for you or in our relationship, or what's happening in the situation. So it's pretty normal and we're not always aware of it.
Susan: Right. And because of the unconscious patterns we've developed, both on a cultural level, within our family system, between each other, there are these ways that we believe, we have patterns that we think are going to bring us back to some place of connection. And really without all three of those key areas being addressed, it's not going to bring us back.
CrisMarie: And I don't know if it's really we think it's going to bring us into connection. I think we are in that moment when we are freaked out, in that stress, we are trying to get some sort of safety or control because what's increasing is tension inside of me and between me and you and also ambiguity like, uh-oh, I don't know if I'm going to have to... Like, you may want me to change or I have to do something differently. So I might feel a sense of like even inundation like you're going to make me change, or abandonment. Like if I don't do what you want me to do, you're going to leave me or I'm going to lose my job or something bad's going to happen.
Susan: Yes. And the styles of trying to get back in control that we're talking about in some of these coping stances is if I blame the other person or blame myself really. It could go either way with that, I can feel like I'm back in control.
CrisMarie: It's so true. I know like when I'm mad at you and I blame you, it does feel like I am exerting some form of control. I'm not very proud of it, but that is for sure. I get that sense of like being angry and blaming and I'm doing something for it.
Susan: Yes, and the same way with accommodating. You know, okay this would be more in our version of this, kind of taking care of the we, like what do you need so that you can feel better? But if I've done that at the expense of myself, it's actually more of a defense and a coping stance than it is a genuine opportunity for us to deal with the tension that's come up.
CrisMarie: And I know, this is CrisMarie, it was my superpower to be an accommodater growing up because there was a lot of angriness in my family and if I would, what do I need to do to fix it to make it all better? It would go away and I would feel so... that is me getting control. I felt so... like it was my superpower. , So that is me getting into, you know, getting control. I felt so like, you know, it was my superpower.
Susan: Yeah. Well, to some degree those coping stances can be our superpower if we do them with consciousness and awareness and choice. Because sometimes when I've watched you navigate a room, it's not because of your stress level that you're doing it, but you do it really well. And I think you learned it under stress.
Susan: So that is relevant. Now the other... We talked a little bit about the blaming and accommodating.
CrisMarie: And those two go together kind of.
Susan: They do. Yes. And the other, which has, at least in Satir's stances they do. I mean we haven't totally... our model is a slightly different one, but you know, it's pretty relevant.
Susan: The other has to do with being super reasonable, going to that rationale, reasonable place. And I'm sure, I know I can do this one well.
CrisMarie: That's Susan talking.
Susan: I have also been... Susan talking. I have also been in the presence of people who do it way better than me and it drives me nuts. But that place of being reasonable and rational about everything. If we just got to the logic behind it, then we would be making a smart decision.
CrisMarie: I think you're just being childish in the way that you're reacting if you could just calm down. Those sorts of phrases often come from somebody who is really cutting off from their feelings and going to that heady place. And it's... It may seem like, boy, isn't that a great skill? Again, like my accommodater skill. But they are missing themselves and what they're feeling, and they're also often missing the emotion that's happening over there with the other person and not acknowledging any of that, which is often a path... Acknowledging the feelings is what we have found is very powerful in dealing with conflict.
Susan: And the other possibility, if you don't go to super reasonable, is to be irrelevant. And now that may not make sense, but think about somebody you know who will just make a bizarre joke, anything to distract from the situation. And that really is yet another form of coping, and it's got nothing... I mean, we may laugh, but we're kind of off on a whole different track.
CrisMarie: Yeah. Again, I can see each one of these as their superpower. They do move something but they don't actually get to what's underneath and what really needs to be solved and what's happening.
Susan: Right. And you'll see, I mean that sort of comes from the classic Satir model of it, and in our book we talk about it from the me, the we, and the situation. And again, these are natural. I think what we really wanted to address today, CrisMarie, was to talk about this idea that what we tend to do when we start to understand this is we try to avoid reacting. You know? It's like-
CrisMarie: If I could just not react then... and I am a big... CrisMarie, I'm a big proponent of, you know, I was like, "If I can just like resolve all this, I'll never react. I'll be calm." That's just me trying to get control and there are situations that I am going to get reactive in.
Susan: Yeah, and so when we are talking about this in our relationship in a couple's model in particular, we really emphasize that you're going to react sometimes. You are going to choose what we call out of the relationship versus going into vulnerability and curiosity, and that where you can get into trouble is if you start to imagine that's not going to happen, that you can rise above that, or never do it again or create enough structure, rules, and regulations that it would not be okay to react again.
CrisMarie: We teach a lot of tools in our Couples Mojo and Couples Alive and we have cards and a model and I see some couples like really grab onto those tools like a lifeline, which is great, but I think they think, "Hey, if I get this down then I won't have to deal with the discomfort of feeling out of control when you, this person who knows me and knows how to push my buttons, pushes all my buttons," which is bound to happen.
CrisMarie: In a relationship.
Susan: I mean that's the even the thing about something... I mean I love the communication model. I love learning.
CrisMarie: Check It Out.
Susan: Check It Out. I love that. And it's a tool. So any tool can be used for good or used for bad. I mean we had a client once who we did a lot of work with this particular group, they were in the healthcare industry they used to say, "We use..." because we at that time were referring to it as the wheel and walking the wheel, talking the wheel, some version of that.
CrisMarie: It's a model of Check It Out.
Susan: It's a model of Check It Out and they were like, "The wheel has become evil."
CrisMarie: It's a weapon.
Susan: It's a weapon. The wheel is a weapon. And you know the irony, they'd be so upset like this doesn't work. And it's like look, it's a tool. It could be used as a weapon or it could be used in the service of dialogue. And that is what we mean by it is a choice. It's a conscious choice that I make when I choose to use the model of Check It Out to clear something out. Am I doing it from a place of trying to make the other person right or wrong? Or am I doing it from a place of genuine curiosity and interest in that other person's position, reality, whatever they're going to share with me?
CrisMarie: And let's be honest, there are times where something happens, and for me, this is CrisMarie, so something happens and I do get triggered, and I get triggered back like it's just happened so quickly and I'm right there in it. I'm really mad or I'm really hurt or I'm shut down and I can't pretend it's not happening. I mean, I used to think I could pretend it wasn't happening, but it was a really painful process. And so we want to really let you know it's not about getting rid of your reactivity, it's more about changing your relationship and developing compassion and recognizing you are going to be reactive, especially in your primary relationship, but also at work. We're passionate about our jobs and if something happens where you think you're getting blamed or not getting taken care of or what... you are going to get upset.
Susan: Yeah. I mean, we used to consider one of our taglines and we may have... Business is personal and you still have a business to do. So the whole idea behind that was it's like we are passionate at work, we do care, we are interested. So our person does show up in the workplace. And so in that situation, there will be times where we feel threatened or we take something and react in the moment. So again, it's very important to recognize these are longstanding patterns we have.
And the funny part about it is if we really could go back to being children, they learn so much faster than we do. Because we have made our coping stances very sophisticated and it's been a long time since we actually had that moment where we could get it. And so we have to allow ourselves to make a mistake to, to go into that reactive, to breathe and feel it, not to disown it and say get rid of it.
CrisMarie: We were talking, Susan and I, about the whole idea that sometimes you can go into that spiritual bypass like, if I meditate enough or if I work my beliefs or anything to try to avoid feeling what's actually happening, and often this is where kids are so great, they actually feel their feelings and then they're onto something else. But we don't. We try to avoid it or stay away from it or bypass it. That doesn't make them go away.
Susan: And it is like... CrisMarie, I think what I appreciate about what you're saying is when we choose to go away and take care of it, we actually disconnect from the relationship itself. And so when we can choose to show up, and that's really what we're talking about when we talk about vulnerability, is like even in my reactivity, show up and own it. Be willing to stay in this relationship and be revealed as a person who reacts and does this. And then talk about, try to stay in, then I have a chance to kind of undo the really kind of trauma from the past and have a chance to begin to understand how to do it differently.
And that's where I think we talk about this notion of separation or trauma, which, you know, there's big traumas, the big T traumas, and those are horrible things that have happened to people that probably do need you to really look at and go deep into, and then there's just our little traumas, which we do all the time, where we separate and we don't choose to relate and be at that edge where you and I can both exist.
CrisMarie: Well, I think trauma was created in a relationship and the way it can be healed is in relationship. Now that said, Susan, you're somebody that people... Tell me where I'm wrong, often call well you're really intense Susan. You're... I don't know if I can... You should see her eyeballs right now and her brow.
Susan: This is why we do this as a podcast. So you won't be frightened. So you won't scare yourself with my eyes. I'm just teasing.
CrisMarie: But I think you have done a lot of work to in that moment own your reactivity and people aren't always comfortable even in that, even when you drop in and say, "Hey, I'm reacting because," I think, tell me where I'm wrong, that this idea of violence versus anger and some people have Velcroed those together and so that intensity... I know you're starting to say something. That intensity can be interpreted as, oh my God, you're going to do something to me.
Susan: I think that's some of it. I do think there's an element that there's a lot that people can project onto what seems like even when I'm trying to own my reactivity. I also think there is this part for me where what is the hardest thing from the pace of being vulnerable is to really acknowledge I am afraid right now or I am scared. So when that's missing, when I haven't brought that into the equation, and all that you're getting is my intensity. Even if I say "I'm defensive, I'm reacting," but I'm not actually owning and behind is this part of me that's really terrified that I won't exist.
Susan: Now that is very like... You know, that is not-
CrisMarie: Well in business, you definitely don't want to say that. Typically.
Susan: Typically. And in life, it's hard to say because it's like everything in my world taught me that don't let them know you care, because once they know that you care they can use it against you. And so it was better to look intense, to look angry, to look rough, too tough.
CrisMarie: I think my hunch is that's a typical message that a lot of men get. Not that women don't get it, but that men... Like it's better to be angry and underneath that is usually that sense of uh-oh, I'm going to be abandoned here or I'm going to be in trouble and that abandonment inundation thing that's going on like upstairs.
Susan: Yes. Yes, because, you know, we talk about this a lot more in our couples workshop and it's true in business too, but we don't get to talk about this nearly as much, but we do on our podcast. So most of us when we get to that place in a relationship where we're losing our sense to be able to cope, it's usually because we either feel invaded and inundated like we're going to have to do something. It's going to be-
CrisMarie: It's my fault. I have to change.
Susan: Something horrible is going to happen, or we think we're going to be abandoned, left behind. And those are two... they come up in business too.
CrisMarie: They do. Well, if I'm going to get blamed for the project or I'm not going to get the promotion, me not getting the promotion is a sense of abandonment and I'm going to be blamed is a sense of invasion/.
CrisMarie: I'm going to get punished for that.
Susan: Yeah, I'm going to be left behind.
CrisMarie: These are basic, basic things that we as humans really are focused on, whether we're conscious of it or not.
Susan: Yeah. And so the key here, and what we want to come back to, is how to work with this for yourself. So the reality of it is, and we both have gone about this, I think CrisMarie, very differently. You've done a lot more work. I mean I'm sure you're going to talk about that with somatics in terms of breathing and understanding the body. This is where my work with the horses has come in more. I also think being able and to find ways to express my anger more fully has actually helped me.
CrisMarie: Talk about what you've been doing more recently with your own work, with your horses, working with reactivity.
Susan: Well I just recently realized, well I've been in my master facilitator program with Koelle Simpson, and a couple things came up because as I've gone deeper in the work, and this will happen in any kind of situation where you begin to work more with yourself. I had the opportunity to work with mustangs and mustangs are wild... are horses who have not generally been touched by humans and they are incredibly survival oriented. So they have a-
CrisMarie: They twitch, right?
Susan: They twitch. They have a real... well, it's interesting right now because I have had this situation to work with two different mustangs. One mustang who probably never had a lot of human trauma because had nev