The power and perils of response in the workplace

By Debbie Nicol

In the workplace, we are often required to respond, in emails or in person, to questions or to answers, to things within our control and those out of our control. Response is part of everyday interaction that the human species thrives on, so why do we get it so wrong, so often? Why do the consequences not deter us from continuing the same futile cycle that often results in disconnection and separation, manifesting in corporate waste, dissent and inefficient business performance?

An understanding of what response is

Response is simply a reaction to an object, situation or person.  We all have the capacity to respond in either an automatic reactionary way or planned ‘masked’ way.  Neither is right nor wrong yet will result in differing consequences and a place along the spectrum of positive or negative outcomes.

We commonly think of response from the perspective of communication, for example replying to an email or providing an answer to a question. While email in the workplace is a great example of a ‘response’ scenario, we can’t ignore the impact of our responses to situations and the surrounding environment.  Picture yourself sitting in a meeting and an additional unexpected person joins the meeting five minutes after it started. The vigour and methodology used to access the additional chair is also a response that will speak volumes, so too the reaction to the interruption the person has caused.

Outcomes

Effective leaders use response to support a message and not detract from it.  If the message is one of organisation, clarity and respect, the responses would likely demonstrate and reinforce those priorities.  Sadly, through our differing behaviours, many intend to respond in accordance with positive intention yet cannot manage to do so.  Regardless of the behavioural methodology you buy into (and there are many ranging from DISC, MBTI and others), many simply don’t recognize that interaction requires understanding of both self and others.

To evolved leaders this goes without saying.  The cornerstone to successful leadership is connectivity – people connecting with you, your ideas and your methodologies. What a shame when a great idea simply elicits no airplay due to our responses, a situation when our leadership is at the expense of others, intentionally or otherwise.

Alternatives

1- Reflection

Business has and always will be the arena of exchange, yet these days has morphed into the arena of reactivity.  Decisions should be taken every single day, yet reactive ‘off the cuff’ responses are demanded to keep the pace.  Our world is big, fast and hungry for more, requiring supporting responses of ‘we want it now’.

Reflection is the ability to stop, look, listen and feel a situation.  The more we practice this technique the more it will become part of us.

Take an email that upsets you.  Are you able and willing to re-program a desire to hit a button called ‘send’?  Type out a response hitting those keys as hard as you like, yet hold back on sending it.  Take a breath, an hour, or a day. Re-read it with a fresh set of eyes and mind.  Take another breath or hour and re-read it again through the eyes of the original messenger.  Put your long-term glasses on and re-read it again with consequences in mind.  Could this reflection possibly steer you in another direction to a place of connectivity rather than one of separation?

Take a business decision for a situation you’ve never faced previously. How many times have we seen blind panic and questions being bandied around such as ‘what will we do’?  Time permitting, what could happen if you did nothing – nothing at all, and allowed the situation to permeate beyond reaction into intuitive or even logical realm (within an acceptable time frame of course).  Could answers come to you out of the blue? Could senses be raised and the new situation link you to new stimuli that you’ve never previously been involved with?

2-Techniques that stop reactivity 

Develop your own tactics that keep you from reacting in a way that will produce negative consequences.  When someone ‘pushes your button’ and lashing back seems the natural response, give yourself a flick from the rubber band around your wrist, to remind you there is a choice.   When a politically-charged colleague attempts to pull you down, repeat a silent mantra such as ‘let my results speak for themselves’ and calmly present the facts and figures. When trust is being challenged, respond with a question and not a statement; that will not only elicit more understanding of what is the root cause of this doubt but also will allow you time to invest in listening, quelling the desire to respond in a possibly detrimental way.

One last word of provocation – can reactive responses to someone or something demonstrate a lack of trust or belief in oneself, giving more power to another?

Response is required on a daily basis. Invest time to ensure your responses work for you rather than against you!  Ensure responses are not at the cost of others.

Nothing or no-one can survive in isolation in business!

Debbie Nicol, Managing Director of ‘business en motion’, moves businesses and leaders ahead through change. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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