Proactive Or Reactive?
June 25, 2013
A few weeks ago, a highly successful group executive confided that lately it seemed, he spent much of his time reacting. "I can't figure out why this is happening," he added. "Welcome to the club," I said. "Reacting seems to be a surging fad."
In the chiaroscuro we call "life," everything is moving faster with more urgency -- real or imagined. Many people begin reacting at an early stage of their career; perhaps we started reacting and responding urgently with good intent but in patterns that hurt us. Just the constant sense of urgency and compulsion is enough to damage our daily productivity. We keep ourselves in crisis state, our senses all dialed-up too high, our adrenaline and muscles tense. Someone says something, does something, and we must respond, jumping into the first thought that enters our mind only to become imprisoned by it. When you allow your emotions and actions to be controlled by someone else, you're checking gas tanks with a lighter.
While it comes naturally, reacting usually doesn't work. When relationship tension (the bad kind) runs high, task tension (the good kind) necessarily lays low. They won't parallel! So we can't be at our best when we're only deflecting someone's thoughts or words as a tennis player returns a volley; it's great exercise for a moment but not at all productive. Few situations, no matter how serious they may seem at the moment, are made better by going berserk. So why do people "react" instead of thinking proactively?
We react when we're anxious and relationship tension is running high; we're afraid of what has happened, what might happen. Some, instead of thinking "If I say this, the negative consequences will be that," simply become so conditioned to reacting to everything as if it was a crisis that it becomes habitual. Whether you're in performance or in sales, reacting to a simple objection or a management criticism puts the control in their hands instead of proactively preempting that exchange or better yet, getting out-front in a rational position of quiet strength.
We also react because we lack confidence, or because many people with whom we associate "react." We do it because we think we have to in order to secure a sense of control. If you're a manager suddenly confronted by a staff member's temerity, you have two choices. One, you can react with bombastic response, or you can be proactive --diffusing their intense point-of-view. "Obviously you're upset ... suppose you back up and start from the beginning; I'd like to know what led to your reaction."
We don't have to be afraid of people. We don't need to fear expressing our most cogent thoughts and feelings (as opposed to lobbing a verbal grenade into someone's cubicle). Most importantly, we don't have to forfeit our personal power to think and feel productive thoughts, as opposed to allowing someone's attitude or aggressiveness to control our conduct and ruin task tension (the good, productive kind).
We don't need to take others' behavior as a measure of our self-worth. We don't have to accept someone's rejection as a measure of our own value. We needn't always take things personally or try to reason someone out of an opinion they didn't reason themselves into. Centuries ago someone scribed, "Living in the past may mean you're depressed. Living in the future may mean you're anxious. Living in the present means you're at peace."