It may seem to you like nothing more than semantics, but there is a significant difference between these two words – reactive and responsive.
Reactive is in the heat of the moment. It is knee-jerk. It is emotional. Fight or flight. When you react you are typically using your “lizard brain”. You lash out. You shut down. You are a fighter. You are a defender.
In business, being reactive usually leads to business strategies that have not been thought through. Perhaps PR disasters. Perhaps losing customers or employees or getting fired.
When you are being reactive you are “on the back foot” – playing catch up. You are a victim of events and not fully in control.
Contrast this with being Responsive.
Responsive is taking time to think things through. It is being empathetic. It is being two steps ahead. You consider. You plan. You quiet the “lizard brain” and do the right thing. You take things less personally. You are calm.
In business, those that respond to events, competitors, and change are thinking ahead. They are making the necessary changes in their business to get or stay ahead, not merely to keep up with the pack.
Being responsive doesn’t mean slow. It doesn’t mean that you need to have meetings or create a task force. It just means that you have considered the options – without the emotional response that may be your first thought.
Anyone who complains about constantly “fire fighting” at work has fallen into the reacting trap. They should learn to get ahead of the problems. Respond and broaden the scope to deal with the cause and not just the problem.
So the next time you are faced with change or a problem, think about how you will respond and not how you will react.. and keep that “lizard brain” quiet.