Reacting Versus Responding

Two people seated at a table talking.

Do you have a tendency to react or to respond? It might sound like splitting hairs, but there is a big difference between reacting and responding. It’s helpful to understand the difference between the two and why it matters which one you use.

When a question, situation, challenge, etc. is presented, you can react to it or respond to it. A reaction is typically spontaneous, driven by emotion and seeks to reciprocate. Whereas a response is more thoughtful, logical and seeks to provide an appropriate answer to what has been presented.

Changing from a tendency to react to a tendency to respond will result in greater and easier successes in your life. It’s always better to try to provide an appropriate answer (response) rather than to instantly reciprocate (react).

Let’s compare the two.


  • A reaction lacks thought. Reactions are instinctive and lack any thought or analysis. Your brain is capable of making good decisions, if it actually gives the situation thought and consideration. Your greatest advantage over other creatures in the world is your ability to think.
  • Reactions are designed to increase comfort in the very short term. This, however, is rarely the optimal way to respond. A reaction seeks to soothe discomfort without involving the intellect.
  • Reactions are often quick, bordering on instantaneous. Quick decisions are rarely as effective as those that were made patiently and carefully.
  • A reaction is aggressive. Reactions are often counterstrikes to an uncomfortable situation. For example, you might make a harsh comment to someone that hurt your feelings. The intention of many reactions is to get back at someone. Think about all of the knee-jerk reactions that are made on Twitter and other social media every day.
  • A reaction is often defensive. You might have an argument with your boss and suddenly decide to quit your job. A reaction like this is to relieve anxiety. Defensive reactions are almost always a huge mistake in the long term.
  • A reaction often creates additional difficulties and challenges. When the long term is sacrificed for the short term, there will be pain coming your way. Quitting your job can result in financial challenges. Yelling at your spouse creates relationship troubles. Punching someone in the face because they screamed a profanity at you can land you in jail.


“A response is constructive and seeks a solution. Responses are solution-oriented and seek to improve the situation.”

  • A response seeks to provide an appropriate answer. It is intelligent and thoughtful. A response is a wise, productive answer to a situation. For example, you recognize that you don’t like your job, so you start looking for a new one. Or someone continuously insults you, so you decide to avoid them in the future.
  • A response uses wisdom and considers the ultimate outcome from any course of action.
  • A response takes as much time as necessary. A response isn’t rushed. You consciously decide to take the time necessary to make a wise and informed decision. Why rush if you don’t have to? The more thought you give the situation, the more likely you are to respond appropriately and effectively.
  • A response lacks aggressiveness. A response seeks to target the best outcome. It doesn’t focus on retribution or use anger as a tool. It is calm, cool, collected, and intelligent. Aggressiveness often lacks logic and proper thought.
  • A response is constructive and seeks a solution. Responses are solution-oriented and seek to improve the situation. Reactions don’t have the same purpose. Your life should be better after a good response. Your life can be made worse after a reaction.

Obviously, there are times when reacting is warranted. For example, if your car dies on train tracks while a train is fast approaching. In this situation, you need a spontaneous reaction to get out of harm’s way. But in situations that require a verbal or behavioral answer, you will almost always want to respond.

Consider the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your life. Did a reaction, instead of a response, lead to making that mistake? Responding uses the best parts of you to make a decision. Reacting relies on your lower faculties. Avoid reacting in your life. Be calm, thoughtful and logical and respond instead.

Published by Ron Richardson

I'm Ron Richardson. I specialize in goals coaching. As your coach, I will help you set realistic goals and partner with you to create a plan and action steps toward achieving those goals. I'll provide objectivity, consistent support and hold you accountable to the commitments you make toward accomplishing your goals.

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