Reactive vs Responsive

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.



4 Responses to Reactive vs Responsive

  1. If Ran August 30, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

    Am I am being reactive if I am being forceful in asking someone to meet the specific requirement? In other when does a forceful response turns into reactive response?

    How to keep lizard brain out? Any suggestions?

    Also how to be responsive without being slow? It takes me time to ensure I have considered all the options it never happens during a meeting or conversation. Are there generic approaches one can take?

  2. Matt Hopkins September 11, 2017 at 6:40 am #

    You can certainly respond in a forceful way. Being reactive occurs when you get an emotional – “fight or flight” – sort of trigger (when someone pushes your buttons etc) which usually ends in regret of some sort.

    My suggestion for keeping the lizard brain out of the situation is to simply pause for thought and label/identify your emotions in that moment. This is where meditation can help. Being able to recognise when you are feeling this way and are about to react in perhaps a negative way, allows you to choose. You choose how you will respond and if that response is forceful, then so be it.

    This isn’t an issue of speed – you can respond just as quickly as you can react, its really about awareness. I would recommend that you look into mindfulness and meditation if you haven’t already done so to help build your ability in this area.

    Hope this helps

  3. Lisa January 11, 2018 at 7:37 pm #

    Hi Matt. I work in an environment where building and testing a new beast of an application has been out priority for over a year. I have one co-worker who seems to be quite inflexible about small setbacks and very vocal about these setbacks to out staff and out customers. He is very reactive and has little control over his emotions.
    My question: how can we help other people become more responsive and gain better control of their emotions?

  4. Matt Hopkins February 15, 2018 at 9:17 am #

    Sorry for the delay in responding Lisa. Its hard to get others to change how they respond to be honest – not unless they want to. My advice would be to get them to understand/see how their behaviour impacts others first. Sometimes people just aren’t very self-aware. This is also where mindfulness practice could help your colleague once they see their own behaviour but is unsure how they could possibly change.