The Difference Between Responding and Reacting


I’m truly convinced that much of our problem is how we communicate about our problems. Some of us have been reactive our whole lives and don’t know anything other than this automatic trigger. Quick to give an answer. Quick to give an opinion. Quick to assert and dominate our voice.

It’s all too easy to react, instead of the self-discipline of taking a humble step back, committing to a holistic perspective and giving a considerate response.

Even if we are “right”, the wrong motive and the wrong attitude at the wrong time defeats its own purpose.

Stephen Covey put it best when he said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.”

We tend to be self-centered by nature. Instead of hearing others out, we fight to be heard. And what progress do we make if the whole world is deaf?

It would stand in agreement that the Bible says we should be “quick to listen and slow to speak” in James 1:19.

That’s not just a suggestion, that’s godly wisdom for those who aspire to lead a God-driven life.

If the goal is to live peaceably among men (Romans 12:18) and be an effective witness, then we’d better learn how to respond thoughtfully to the world around us.  Otherwise, we err on the side of living as a clanging cymbal and damaging our witness.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Someone who responds instead of reacts can root themselves in love. What does genuine love prompt us to do? It humbles us to put another first- to be selfless. It’s not all about you being heard and voicing off. When you can put another first, you’re willing to understand. Understanding brings two people to the same page. Even if they don’t agree they can begin to reason together or at least develop a respectful relationship. Fruit can bear from this harmony.

But let’s be real, social media hasn’t made this any easier. We now live in a world infiltrated by reactions in comments, 140 character comebacks, and digital soapboxes at the click of a button. Social media has increased our reactivity to the point that it’s a daily lifestyle right in the palm of our hands!

You’ve reacted with opinions, put-downs and internet gossip before you’ve gotten up and brushed your teeth!

I think it’s important to understand the difference between reacting and responding because it’s a character issue. It says a lot about the type of person you are and we ought to be a sound representation of our faith if we claim it’s what we live by.

Reacting doesn’t operate in self-control.

Responding thinks and then acts.

Reacting’s immediate reply isn’t concerned with understanding another, only self-consumed with being heard.

Responding takes the perspective of others into account and gives well-rounded feedback.

Reacting is driven by emotions.

Responding isn’t ignorant to emotions but can separate long enough to make sound judgment.

Reacting tends to be rooted in self-righteousness.

Responding has the humility to forget yourself long enough to take an interest in others (Philippians 2:4).


We’re flawed and human and many times our emotions may get the best of us. It’s nothing to shame ourselves about but definitely something to be aware of. Do you have high levels of reactivity?

Some tips for being less reactive:

  • Give yourself some space and time to think about your response before you blurt it out. By drawing out some time distance your emotions can settle and hopefully clear up any clouded judgment.
  • Write down your raw emotions before approaching the situation. Release on paper before you release on a person.
  • Have a moment of deep breathing and slow down. Stress and raised emotions can literally cramp our mental processing to think rationally.
  • Say a prayer for the person you’re dealing with before facing them. If nothing else, it can change your heart toward them.
  • Seek counsel before you jump into the situation and get an outside voice on the situation. Someone else may be able to see things with a more balanced view since they are not being effected by it.

This is simply a thought-piece and I hope it prompts us all to self-reflect on our personal character and build healthy relationships with those around us.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you think there is a difference between responding and reacting? Let’s chat in the comments below!

Your sister,

Brittney Moses (2)

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