ISH residents tend to be pretty informed individuals. A casual conversation about art or culture can seamlessly turn into a discussion on global politics and international conflicts. These recent conversations, coupled with reflections from studying Peace and Post Conflict Reconciliation in Uganda and Rwanda, have led me to examine responses vs. reactions as a method of conflict resolution.
Over the years I’ve observed that emotions can be prone to sudden eruptions. These eruptions frequently disrupt relationships and can result in unforeseen consequences. A conflict between friends can easily emerge from a mistaken remark. A dispute between a government and its citizens or political opponents can deteriorate into a civil war with countless casualties. Whether we like it or not, conflicts can creep into every crevice of our lives and have the power to severely shape the world we live in.
Personally, I’ve made a conscious choice to respond rather than react to conflicts in my own life. What’s the difference? Well, I view responses through a prism of intentionality whereas I perceive reactions to be impulsive and ineffectual.
More specifically, reactions almost always require us to relinquish our power while simultaneously distorting priorities and one’s sense of purpose. When reacting in a conflict we are likely to be highly susceptible to whatever emotion that has been triggered by the situation whether it is fear, anger, frustration, confusion, guilt, shame, etc. If we are constantly reacting then inevitably someone else is controlling the situation via their actions or inaction. Reactions are made in the moment. They are steeped in spontaneity and lack strategic foresight and often pose barriers to sustainable solutions.
Contrastingly, responses are more results oriented. They incorporate your end goal or ultimate purpose/point. Thus, they are inherently proactive and self-directed. When responding to a conflict you consider how your next action will affect your primary objectives. You ask yourself questions such as:
- What is my main aim?
- What options and actions will actually lead to me calming or solving this conflict?
- What message do I want to send? Am I the right person to deliver this message? How can it be delivered receptively?
- Will this action get me any closer to my goals? If so, how? If not, what are the negative ways in which I might be affected?
- Is this even worth my time?
- How can I impact this situation in a way that will not only benefit me but will prevent others from dealing with this same conflict in the future?
- What can I do that will lead to an actual resolution rather than merely inflaming the situation?
It is important to note that responses do not require a tremendous amount of time. In many cases, the difference between a response and a reaction can be a few deep breaths. The distinction is simply acting with precision and purpose. This is particularly critical since conflicts are often injected with intense emotions that blur lines of consciousness, compassion and civility.
Simply stated, response equals intentional and impact driven actions. Reactions on the other hand equal in advert behaviors dictated/directed by the actions of others. So, the next time you’re in a conflict or feel conflicted about something, be purposeful in your actions and respond accordingly!