Responding Instead of Reacting

By Laura Hansen PCC

How can you build your capacity to respond versus react in the workplace and in your life when stress levels are high, conflict with colleagues is rife, the pace is warp speed, or when emotions are strong?

What’s the difference between reacting and responding?

When you are responding you make thoughtful, mature choices about what response will be most appropriate and effective in a given situation.

Reacting on the other hand comes from an emotional, knee-jerk place, based in the moment, and doesn’t take into consideration long-term effects of what you do or say. A reaction is survival-oriented and, on some level, a defense mechanism. It may turn out okay, but often a reaction is something we later regret.

To increase your ability to respond versus react:

  1. Recognize that you’re in a reactive pattern.
  2. Take a time out. Don’t react in the heat of the moment.
  3. Center yourself so that you can regain access to your inner resources and your capacity and wisdom to respond effectively.

There are many mindfulness and centering practices taught today; you may have your own ways of doing this.  Here is one of my favorites. 

Centering Practice

This centering practice asks us to tune into and organize our bodies along three dimensions: Length, Width, and Depth.

Length: Stand up. Check out your posture, and organize yourself in relation to gravity so that you are supported effortlessly. Place your feet slightly apart, knees unlocked, and pelvis rocked forward slightly to straighten the spine. Sense the bottoms of your feet, where the floor presses against them. Relax your shoulders, letting them drop. Hold your eyes open, letting your gaze be soft and your peripheral vision be available to you. Allow your jaw to relax. Imagine that the top of your head is connected to the sky as if by a string. Drop your attention to your center of gravity, two inches below your navel.

Width: Gently rock your weight from right to left. Find the neutral balanced place in the center of this dimension. Sense the equal weighting on each of your feet. Be aware of your width, of the space you take up. Sense the width of your body from shoulder-to-shoulder, and from hip to hip, and from the outside of your left foot to the outside of your right foot.  You may feel an expansion in your chest that gives you the sense of taking up more space.

Depth: Align yourself from front to back. Again, a gentle rocking back and forth from heel to toe can help you find the balance point. We are accustomed to focusing out in front of us, but there is also space behind us. Bring awareness to this, sensing the space and the room behind you. Imagine weight and mass behind you, as if you had a giant, massive tail extending out along the ground. Allow yourself to feel supported by this mass and to let your belly soften and open.

This practice is scalable. By this, I mean that you can take five minutes or more on each of the three components, or you can quickly and easily shift into the centered place in a matter of seconds (once you have practiced it a few times for a longer period of time). Centering is an internal state rather than a specific body position, and you will soon find that you can center yourself sitting, walking, or brushing your teeth. With practice, centering yourself will feel like a quick and effortless “coming home,” and will be almost an instantaneous shift in awareness.

To begin, use your time to explore and sense into the experience of each of the three dimensions. Center yourself at least once a day. Initially do this standing up. Then practice in different circumstances: sitting down, in meetings, before conversations, and in preparation for stressful events. See how you experience yourself differently, and what happens in your relationships and your ability to respond instead of react.




Laura can assist you in learning to respond more mindfully and effectively.  Contact Arden to learn more.