Reactive vs Responsive, two concepts that can seem very similar until we dive deeper on their significance, because of how easy it can be to do one more than another. Let us start with reactive. Being reactive is something that can come natural to us because of how comfortable we are with this type of behavior. It is something we have done since we are children. For example, we do not get the toy on the shelf we want, so we start screaming and making a scene, being reactive, so that our parents can make the purchase. We do not get along with the schoolteacher, we start lashing out and misbehaving, being reactive, in order to get switched to another class, and so on and so on. There are many more examples of how we have learned the skill of being reactive. Because of this, these experiences have made it very easy and comfortable for us to be reactive to situations that make us upset or angry. Then we grow up, start working, we become reactive to some situations, have different outcomes, and realize that in business we cannot behave in the same manner, that we cannot take things personal to try and get our way.
Being reactive, is one of the behaviors that professionals are faced with in the workplace which can affect or even determine your success or failure. To me, it is interesting because it is a concept that I had not really paid attention to throughout my early career. I thought that people, such as a boss, were being reactive because it meant that they were passionate about the organization and their role. That in order to succeed in business you needed to react to situations and have that type of behavior in order to show you were strong. However, once I realized that there was a difference, I understood the need to refrain from being reactive and start to learn how to be responsive.
As a Latino female in business and more specifically in a leadership/executive role it becomes even more crucial to learn the art of being responsive instead of reactive. You see, unfortunately there is a stigma that Latinos, especially Latino women, are “emotional”, “loud” and “feisty”, which emphasizes the need for us to have that emotional intelligence of delivering our messages with a more responsive approach. I also recognize that we are looked at by our team members as role models, that when we come to work, we should always come in with our right foot forward. It’s interesting because I always tell people that at work, we need to put on our avatar and leave our personal biases and opinions at home, which makes it even more challenging to exercise the art of being responsive.
Being responsive, is the mature and professional way of managing through a difficult circumstance or crisis, especially if you feel it is personal. Personal crises are the hardest to respond to instead of react to because they put your emotions in a whirlwind, and even science proves that our sense of rationalization gets altered when we are emotional or dealing with a situation that can make us upset. But all is not lost, responsiveness can contain elements of reactiveness but what changes is the delivery of the message and the outcome. When you are responsive to a situation it means you have understood the issue in its totality, you have asked questions, you have reviewed the elements affected and you have designed a plan to address the issues with a resolution that is the best for the business.
Some of my tips for learning how to be more responsive rather than reactive are to:
- not immediately answer the issue or reach out to the person
- take a moment to understand the problem
- consult with a colleague (not gossip but consult)
- find out more information about the circumstance and speak with the person or individual involved
- ask questions such as why and how
- finally, you could always say, I am upset right now and do not have an answer but will get back to you shortly
It is completely reasonable to take a minute to compose yourself and develop a response, because in the end we are human as well and have emotions. To close I will share with you a quick story about a leader I worked with that was reactive and not responsive. I worked with a manager that would always like to coach the staff on being responsive and not reactive but had difficulty in learning to manage that same behavior. When I launched this blog, that manager was very upset and angry because the manager felt that in some way or another, I was betraying the trust offered to me by the organization. This person spoke to other members in the organization to find out about my blog and was very reactive to the news, but the manager never approached me directly to discuss with me the issue or concern. This created a strain in our relationship to the point that now the manager, which at one point trusted me, now does not speak to me and I not them. It is sad because if the behavior would have been more responsive and not reactive, we could have cleared out the issue and any misunderstanding could have been straightened out and our relationship could have grown but it didn’t.
In the end having an approach of being responsive will open more doors in your career.