Response vs. Reaction

Cockroach theory: The reactionary behavior of individuals when they suddenly encounter an agent of panic.

Imagine you are at a restaurant and a cockroach suddenly lands on a lady. The expected reaction would be her screaming out of fear. You can picture her jumping up and waving her hands to swat the insect away. The reaction being contagious, most people around her would also panic. The problem would compound the drama further if she managed to push the cockroach onto another person. Now imagine the cockroach landing upon a stoic person. Despite fear and disgust, the person would stand firm and composed. Before taking action, the cockroach’s movements would be observed. When the moment was right, a swift calculated action would result in the insect’s capture. The person now has the control to either destroy the creature or release it outside the restaurant.

We are in control of the histrionic behavior cockroaches elicit in us. It is how we individuals react to situations that define who we are. The people who panicked simply reacted to the situation while the stoic person responded. Reacting is being defensive with our emotions taking a central role without reason driving us forward. Eventually, we lose control of the situation.

Instead, we should always respond. This is being more thoughtful and most importantly contains reason. This is less of emotions and more of Logic! One benefit of responding is that it can change the direction of an interaction to a more correct course of action. Reacting is ingrained, but response takes work. Many strong human emotions such as fear and pride drive reaction, whereas, response often forces us to go fight our nature.

One of my sub-ordinates always thought he was right and that he knew everything. We had many situations where clients sent him issues and he always argued (reacted – without even checking once) that the configuration/set-up was fine. This led to many escalations which was investigated and later corrected. After some advice and lot of explanation, he began responding rather than reacting, resulting in far fewer escalations and quicker returns on issues.

Posted Under