Respond Not React

By Karilyn Barnett

Don’t React! Respond and Remain Calm with the Law of Relativity

The Law of Relativity simply states that nothing is good or bad, big or small, pretty or ugly… until you relate it to something.  For example, my house is really, really small compared to a mansion, or my house IS a mansion compared to a hut. It’s all relative!

The reality is that a situation, thought, or event is neither good nor bad, it simply is.  When a situation comes along you have the option to either react or respond and attach meaning to the situation.  There is a huge difference between reacting and responding. A reaction is emotional and occurs without thought, resulting in a negative view.   A response involves thought, if even for a brief moment and is without emotion, creating a positive view.

Consider these 3 events and think about how you might react or respond:

  • The washing machine overflowed.
  • I forgot to pay my credit card.
  • On the way to a job interview, I missed my connecting flight due to the weather.

It’s probably safe to say that the above problems could wreck your day if you allowed them.  

Here’s how person A might REACT:

  • “The washing machine overflowed and it’s going to cost me a bundle to fix the floor!  Where am I going to get the money? I’m broke!”
  • “I can’t believe I was so stupid to miss the credit card payment.  Now I have to pay a $50 late fee.”
  • “I’ve missed my connecting flight and now I’m stuck here.  I’m going to miss my job interview and I know they are going to give the job to someone else.  They didn’t seem very interested in me anyway.”  

.  Here’s how person B might RESPOND:

  • “Wow, I was so lucky! I may have to replace some of the flooring, but it could have been so much worse.”
  • “I really goofed this time, but thankfully it was just this one payment. If I call the credit card company and explain what happened, maybe they’ll waive the fee.  If not, they’ll at least know that this was an accident and not intentional.”
  • “I’ll give the company a call and let them know that I missed my connection due to the weather.  I’m sure they’ll understand. I know they are really interested in me, so everything will be OK. I’ll use this extra time to prepare a bit more for the interview.”

Sometimes we have to make a split decision to react or respond.  Our natural instinct is to react so this may be something you have to practice over time.   Recently I was given an opportunity to “practice” and put this law into action.

A couple of months ago my husband and I became landlord’s for the first time, a somewhat scary proposition for us.  The tenant’s 2nd month rent check bounced.  My first reaction was, “Oh no! This can’t be happening.  What have we gotten ourselves into? These people are going to be lousy renters and will probably destroy our home!” 

Just a day or two before I had been pondering the Law of Relativity so I caught myself before I flew into panic mode.  I took a deep breath and told myself to calm down, everything would be OK. Part of me wanted to be demanding and confrontational while the other part of me said to listen and postpone judgment.  I responded to the later feeling. I called the tenant and she felt terrible. She apologized over and over and said she would get to the bottom of it. I never worried or stressed about it. I simply felt calm and held the belief that everything would work out.  It took her a few days to get it straight, but she did. The problem was a glitch with her bank. I am so glad that I chose to respond to this situation.  

So next time you are faced with a difficult situation, remember:

  • The situation is neither good nor bad, it simply is…until you relate it to something
  • You have the choice to respond or react.  It takes practice to respond, but you can do it!

Armed with this knowledge, you too can respond and remain calm!


To learn more about Mentor Training and our Facilitator Track for leaders, click here.

Karilyn Barnett
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One Response

  1. I love the concept of Responding rather than Reacting. Responding takes and keeps the situation going in a positive direction even when the situation seemed very negative. The Law of Relativity teaches that everything is relative. There is no use in comparing, stay positive and go forward!

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