Choose How You Respond

We all get provoked.  An angry associate; a cranky customer; a snarling spouse.  In these cases, the primitive part of our brain designed to protect us in the wild kicks in and our autonomic response is to recklessly fire back.  We lash out, hit below the belt, and respond with uncontrollable emotion.

That’s where the problems begin.  We end up saying things we regret and damaging relationships.  The impulsive reaction generally creates far more damage than good and can lead to the undoing of companies, families, and careers.

Fortunately, we have a choice.  No matter how aggressive the stimuli, we can respond deliberately.  Think about your own breathing for a moment.  You can control your breath (hold it, speed it up, pace it) or you can let your body run on autopilot.  You have the identical choice to make when aggravated.

The most successful people pause for a few seconds and then proactively decide how to respond.  They recognize their own internal instincts, but then thoughtfully consider a range of options before issuing a knee-jerk response.  They think about what would be most productive in that moment.  They put their ego aside and deeply consider the path that will lead to the best outcome.  They realize that they may not be in control of what comes at them, but are in absolute and complete control of their response.

In the game of chess, grandmasters think many moves ahead.  When an opponent makes a threatening gambit, the master pauses and considers the full spectrum of possibility.  She think about her next move, her opponent’s various reactions, and then, which move should be made for each of the various what-if scenarios.  While the game is combative by nature, strong players are deliberate and emotionless at every step of the way.

In the coming week, you will likely be provoked by someone or something.  Why leave your response to caveman instincts when you can be the grandmaster of your own life?  If each of us took that one small step – to pause, evaluate, and carefully think before we react – imagine how much better our community would be.   This week, choose your moves wisely and trade argumentative for constructive.