Reaction Vs. Response

We all consider ourselves to be responsible people. That’s the way other people would want us to be or that’s how organization’s would want their employees to be. Responsible.

Let’s try to understand what is responsibility. If we break the word Responsibility into two words, we get Response + Ability . So, Responsibility means the ability to Respond. Now let’s try to understand what is the meaning of a Response.

For that, let’s take a scenario where there is a stimulus i.e. an event, after which we need to take an action or give a reply. There are two ways in which this action can be taken.

  1. Immediate or instant action after the event or stimulus
  2. Action that is taken after a short delay or Gap

Now, most people tell me that an instant action would be better. However this is where I differ.

An instant action is called as a Reaction, as show in the figure below:

The problem with a reaction is that it is instant, and therefore doesn’t allow us time to think and apply our mind before taking the action or decision or giving a reply. Therefore there is a chance that our action might not be a very thoughtful one and we might have to repent later.

In contrast, an action that is taken after a Gap is called as a Response. This is shown in the figure below

Here, the GAP gives us time to think and consciously choose our response.

Dr. Viktor Frankl has very rightly stated that between a stimulus and a response, there lies a gap, and in that gap lies the power to choose our response and in that response lies our growth and freedom.

If we consider ourselves to be responsible, we must consciously respond every time. This means that every time there is a stimulus, we must stop for a moment, think and then consciously take a decision or make a choice of our action.

People who think that a Gap means a delay have misunderstood the concept. This Gap is not a delay, it is a small amount of time, in most cases a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours, or in some rare cases a couple of days. Nothing more. The Gap is a time duration just adequate to be able to take a good decision pertaining to the matter at hand.

Some people tell me that in Emergencies one cannot keep a gap and therefore will end up reacting. What I would like to remind such people is that emergency teams too are called as Emergency Response teams and not emergency React Teams.

This means that in Emergencies too people are essentially expected to respond.

Except that in such cases the gap will be very small, probably a few seconds. This is made possible by training these teams so well that the same decisions that we would need minutes to take, these people can take in seconds. They areĀ  made aware of all possible scenarios and decision S.O.P is made in advance or by some people is made on the spot based on their experience. This ensures that even in an emergency, the decision is taken properly .

The problem is that some people simply don’t know how to ensure this GAP in day to day situations. A simple solution is that when people ask you to come up with your reply immediately, simply ask for some time. Tell them..”Can I get back to you in 5 minutes or 10 minutes” . You are not asking for a Day or Week, 5-10 minutes is reasonable and ideally justified to make a choice.

So, let’s promise ourselves to always ‘Respond’ and never ‘React’. That way we will never have to repent on things that we shouldn’t have said or things that we shouldn’t have done. That way we can also claim to be Responsible.


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