In a recent leadership workshop a participant asked me:

"How can I get staff to think about choices or
decisions and not just react?"

My first thought was of a classic Zig Ziglar story that talks about the big difference one word can make. Zig said (and I`m paraphrasing):

Imagine going to the doctor for medication and returning for a follow-up visit. In one case the doctor says you are reacting to the medication, in the other case the doctor says you are responding to the treatment.

There`s a big difference between responding and reacting.

That difference is the key to answering the question; my participate is looking for a thoughtful response rather than an immediate reaction.

So, my answer comes in two parts: first, how to respond rather than react; then how to support that choice and habit in others.

How to Respond Rather Than React

Think big picture. When you think about how this specific situation fits into your overall goals and objectives it will be easier to respond.

Put the situation in context. Always consider the context - what is happening and how the next step will best serve you, the organization and everyone involved.

Blend logic and emotion. The best decisions are both informed by facts and infused with emotion. The goal isn`t to deny your emotions, but to balance those immediate emotional responses with thoughts and facts to fill in the blanks. This is the essence of responding.

Ask yourself the key reaction question. The key question is: Am I reacting? Simply asking yourself that question can ground you and give you a quick mental break to perhaps choose differently.

Recognize choices. Often reacting comes when you don`t know or think you don`t have any other option. When you realize that you always have choices, you can remember to consider them and the consequences they bring before moving forward.

Create 20/20 vision. You know hindsight is 20/20. Your goal in the moment is to mentally move yourself into the future and look back with imagined 20/20 vision to determine your best response to the current situation.

How To Help Others Respond

Once you understand the differences, the best way to help others is to follow this three step formula:

Expect. The first step always is to make your expectations clear and help people understand when and where you expect response rather than immediate reaction.

Model. It is hard to encourage or inspire others to respond if you aren`t modeling it yourself.

Coach. Once you are responding rather than reacting, you are in a better position to coach others based on your experience, citing examples and more.

Some Final Thoughts

While responding seems like the prudent choice, you may be wondering how speed plays into this equation. Clearly in a crisis or emergency situation it may seem that you would logically need to react or operate in a split-second decision mode.

The reality is the best crisis managers (ER doctors, emergency management officials, firefighters as some examples) actually are trained and practice a variety of scenarios precisely so they can respond rather than react.

The difference is in preparation and thought.

In other words, response (versus reaction) doesn`t mean you will be slow, just thoughtful.

Zig is right - there is a big difference - you and your team will reach better decisions and make better choices when you respond rather than react.

Author's Bio: 

The best leaders know they must learn how to respond successfully to a wide variety of situations. That is why many leaders from around the world have made the Remarkable Leadership Learning System their choice as a one skill at a time, one month at a time approach to becoming a more confident and successful leader. This system allows you to learn without travel and to have your learning tools and resources available whenever it works best for you. Get more than $748.25 worth of leadership development materials including two complimentary months of that unique system as part of Kevin Eikenberry’s Most Remarkable Free Leadership Gift Ever today at
Kevin is a bestselling author, speaker, trainer, consultant and the Chief Potential Officer of the Kevin Eikenberry Group (