Do You Act or React? What is Your Behavioural Style?

November 3, 2011

communicationdiva.comI’ve been teaching Communications and Human Relations Skills for many years now, and an article came across my desk way back when that was not credited, but that is something I have read out loud to my classes ever since. Having tried to research it a bit, I found a variation of it apparently condensed from an article by Sidney J. Harris in the Chicago News…but that’s as much as I can find. Nevertheless, here is the my introduction of it, and then I’ll let you read it as I have it and you can let me know what you think.

Reacting means acting again

To react to something means to respond to a behavior someone else is exhibiting rather than deciding how to act yourself. Sometimes, you have to react…as in ducking out of the way of a basketball that has been lobbed at your head. But there are people who base their actions on the actions of others all the time, which could be seen to be a passive activity. Allowing others to decide how you are going to feel or behave is not particularly being in control of yourself, and it must be exhausting to do on a regular basis. We run across grumpy or rude people all the time. To respond to them by being grumpy or rude back might feel good in the moment, but it certainly does not reflect well on your own behavior-especially if there are other people around or you are trying to be professional.

I don’t think we can NOT react all of the time, but the reason I read the following article to my students every time I teach a new class, is because I believe it has truth to it and that it’s an important concept to remember. (It’s also really good for me to hear it every once in a while too!) 🙂

So here it is, as I have it in hand.

Do You Act or React??

I took the bus with my friend the other day – her usual route to work. As we got off, she took the time to face the driver, look at him, and thank him politely. The driver didn’t even acknowledge her.

“A rude person, isn’t he?” I commented.

“Oh, he’s that way every time,” shrugged my friend.

“Then why do you continue to be so polite to him?” I asked.

“Why not?’ inquired my friend, “Why should I let him decide how I am going to act?”

As I thought about this incident later, it occurred to me that the important word was ACT. My friend acts toward people; most of us react toward them. My friend refuses to return incivility for incivility.

Nobody is unhappier than the perpetual reactor. Their center of gravity is not rooted within themselves where it belongs, but in the world outside. Their temperature is always being raised or lowered by the social climate around them, and they are a mere creature at the mercy of those elements.

Serenity cannot be achieved until we become the masters of our own actions and attitudes. To let another determine whether we shall be rude or gracious, happy or angry, elated or depressed, is to relinquish control over our own true self and inner spirit, which is ultimately all we possess. The only true possession is self possession.

So? What Do YOU Think?

This article always makes me stop to think about where in the day I have reacted, rather than acted the way I want to. If I come home to a cranky person…will I too be cranky fifteen minutes later, when I actually had a really good day and have no reason to be cranky?…Or will I act instead the way I am really feeling, and allow the other person to behave for themselves?

Food for thought.



Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Indira April 9, 2017 at 6:22 pm

Thought provoking and a good reflection.
Agree with the act vs react to a great extent. All the same, everything in moderation is the way to go.
The upside of reacting is our feedback loop from the environment which helps us manage perceptions is much needed.


JennSwanson April 9, 2017 at 8:02 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Indira. Yes, I agree…feedback is always a way for us to gauge our perceptions and make corrections as needed. Unfortunately, not everyone is self-aware enough to make said corrections. 🙂 Thanks for visiting Communication Diva! Jenn


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