Turn It Up Coaching: React, Don't Respond, couples arguing

How to Respond instead of React

Have you ever reacted to someone who is angry with you and made the conversation worse? We all have done that. Whenever someone who is angry or upset confronts you, here is a suggestion that will make that conversation more productive: respond instead of react.

The confrontation could come from your spouse, one of your older kids, a friend, or even someone who just doesn’t like something you did or didn’t do. No matter who is angry with you and confronting you, remembering to respond instead of reacting is a great way to handle the situation.

Two Buckets

The well-known leadership author John Maxwell teaches that we all metaphorically carry two buckets with us. One has gasoline and the other has water.  When someone complains or confronts you, which bucket will you pour on that fire?  When you react, you’re pouring the gasoline and the fire gets bigger. When you respond, you’re pouring on the water and often the fire goes out.

John Maxwell teaches that we all metaphorically carry two buckets with us. One has gasoline and the other has water. 

What Can Go Wrong when you react

When you react, here are some possible things that can happen:

  1. You get defensive because you feel attacked
  2. You go on the offensive and counter attack
  3. You start trying to explain or excuse your action which only makes the person angrier
  4. You reaction is driven by your emotions
  5. You fail to think about what your words will produce in the other person’s emotional state
  6. You say things and sometimes even do things that you regret later

Sound familiar? Trust me, I’ve done all of the above and it usually doesn’t work out well.

The Better Way – Respond instead of react

Here are a few ideas on how to respond instead of reacting:

  1. Listen and focus on understanding why the person is angry at you
  2. Try to understand how what happened to them is making them feel the way they do
  3. Ask questions to clarify the complaint or issue
  4. Restate the issue/problem/complaint in your own words and then ask the person if you got it right
  5. Be patient and allow the person space and time to vent
  6. Validate the person’s emotional response to what happened by saying something like “If something like that happened to me, I’d be angry too.”
  7. If you crossed the line and did or said something wrong, take responsibility for your actions and apologize
  8. Offer an action plan so that this problem can be prevented in the future

I have had conversations with my loved ones that were so intense that I got upset and angry too. I’ve learned that rather than reacting in anger, it’s better to focus on understanding, validating and apologizing. Then later, I will spend some time prayerfully thinking over what happened, if I did anything wrong and why I did that. After this thoughtful evaluation, I will create an action plan that will help me from doing that same thing again. Then I will go back to the person, apologize again and spell out my action plan.

God gives us some great guidance about this topic in the Bible. He says:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

James 1:19

I realize too that not everyone who is angry at you wants to resolve the issue. For those people, its best to just walk away and not respond at all. But if you care about having a good relationship with this person, it’s wise to repair things.

If you’d like more on this, here’s a video: https://youtu.be/GRJzAJ5QHVU

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *