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Stop, Drop, & Roll, Baby!

Susan L. Reid

How To React Differently

Yeah, don’t you just love that play on words--reactor, as in nuclear. That play on words is intentional because that is exactly how someone feels inside when they are reacting to what is being said or heard--nuclear. Once something is said or done, that spark ignites a whole chain of reactions that feed on each other and then boom--you’re into fight or flight mode. It ain’t pretty and it ain’t fun.

Picture of baby firemanThere are, however, three things you can do to curb your nuclear reaction. The first step is to actually understand what is going on, the second is to identify when you are in reactor mode, and the third is to follow the advice of your local firefighter and stop, drop, and roll, baby!

Here’s how people talk about the difference between a reaction and a response:

  • We re-act out of emotion and respond out of wisdom.
  • A reaction is a knee-jerk, automatic action. A response is more thoughtfully considered.
  • We re-act emotionally and respond mindfully.

The difference between react and response is pretty black and white. We all know, by how our body responds, when we are in reaction mode: our gut clenches, chest constricts, breathing gets shallow, jaw gets tense, blood pressure increases, and our face gets red. Sometimes, even our fists clench as our body gets ready for fight or flight. While that may be appropriate when an actual, real threat is at hand, in most instances when conversations get heated, the threat is perceived. After all folks . . . words don’t kill, people do.

What Is A Reaction?

Probably the most important thing to understand about a reaction is that when we re-act, we are re-acting something from our past that is still unresolved and causing us pain. Often called “hot buttons,” when these points of pain are activated, we very quickly move out of calm, rational self, and into an automatic fight or flight mode. When this happens, you can bet that at the heart of the matter is an unresolved pain that is being re-activated. The defensive, reactionary response is just a way of protecting that piece that is being re-activated. It’s rather like putting a thick, 10-ply steel bandage over a little cut in order to protect it from getting bumped. It’s a re-action that is out of proportion to both the original activating event, and the present issue.

Top 10 Ways To Identify If You Are Reacting Or Responding

Reactors

Responders

Make assumptions from an iron-clad point of view Remain open to other perspectives and opinions
Defend themselves Explain situations
Often repeats themselves, getting louder and more animated each time Are clear and direct communicators, preferring not to escalate the situation
Use judgmental and defensive phrases such as: “why did you do? or “ you never told me that”

Use inviting, open-ended questions such as: “could you tell me more about that?”

Need to be right Want to be heard
Place blame outwardly by using “you” statements

Take personal responsibility by using “I” statements

Are concerned about outcome

Are open to possibilities

Make emotional, impulsively rash decisions

Make considered, well-reasoned decisions
Use judgmental, inflammatory language like: “you always do this” or “I never thought you would”

Use non-judgmental, non-inflammatory language like "I perceive” or "It seems to me that"

Get angry when you don’t agree with them

Make considered, well-reasoned decisions

Once you are able to identify when you are in re-action mode, the next step is to stop, drop, and roll. Fire fighters have long espouse this strategy when talking with people about what to do if they find their clothes on fire, and it is good advice when you feel your five-alarm bell go off, too. Here’s how it works:

Picture of stop signStop, Drop, and Roll

1. If you are in a fire situation and find your clothes on fire. Stop. Don’t flame the fire by running or increasing energy.

Good advice for reactors too. Though your natural instinct may be to fight for your position, defend yourself, or run from conflict; resist the urge to do so. Instead . . . Stop. Though the fight or flight voices inside your head may be going off like a five-alarm fire, the answer isn’t to flame the fire. The answer is to stop it.

2. If you are in a fire situation and find your clothes on fire, the next thing firefighters tell you to do is drop. Since noxious fumes and heat rise, the importance of dropping is so you can breathe cooler air and not burn your lungs.

Great advice for reactors, too. Rectors can go from 0-60 in 3 seconds. To stop your fire in its tracks . . . Drop. By dropping you are stepping back and allowing yourself time to calm down. Drop and go for a walk, write in a journal, or listen to soothing music. Do whatever it takes to calm yourself down and breathe cooler.

3. Once you are down on the ground, the next thing firefighters tell you to do is roll. Rolling is the best way to smother and put out the fire.

For reactors, that would be to put out the internal fire. Since it is awfully hard to figure out the source of the fire if you are on fire yourself, before any further communication occurs, roll. Then, when the internal fire is out (and do make sure it is really out and not smoldering somewhere), ask yourself these questions:

      • What was the spark that ignited me?
      • Where’s the real, internal source of my fire?
      • How can I deal with this situation differently?

3 Tips To Consider While Rolling

Be willing to suspend judgment for a moment and just listen. This is the number one thing you can do to put yourself in response mode.

Picture of hot buttonKnow that it is never too late to stop, drop, and roll. Whenever you find yourself reacting when you wanted to be responding, say: “Wait, I want to back up here. I’m reacting to what you are saying and what I really want to be doing is responding to what you are saying.”

Figure out your “hot buttons,” and adopt a "keep calm" strategy for when they get pushed.

By adopting the firefighter’s advice on how to handle fire, you will strengthen your response-ability to deal with stressful situations and contentious conversations in a positive and productive manner. As you skills increase, your sense of empowerment and confidence will also increase. Instead of feeling as if you are controlled by other people and the situations around you, you will soon see that by using the stop, drop, and roll technique, you can be in charge of your responses. Keep in mind that though you may not be able to control what people say or how they say things, you can control your response to them.

© 2006 Susan L. Reid

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Copyright ©2006 by Susan L. Reid, DMA

Susan L Reid, DMA, Small Business Start Up Coach, Consultant & Accidental Pren-her™ is the author of Discovering Your Inner Samurai: The Entrepreneurial Woman's Journey to Business Success. Known for taking the fear out of starting up businesses, Susan provides value, inspiration and direction to entrepreneurial women starting up and launching small businesses. 

To get your copy of Discovering Your Inner Samurai: The Entrepreneurial Woman's Journey to Business Success, go to WME Books or visit www.Alkamae.com. For ideas and start up tips, sign-up for our free e-Zine for entrepreneurial women called LAUNCH YOU! We are blogging at: http://susanreid.typepad.com

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