Responding versus Reacting – A Key to Your Ability to Influence

Posted on October 5, 2013 by Bob Burg


“Self-Control is the very essence of character.  To be able to look a man straight in the eye, calmly and deliberately, without the slightest ruffle of temper under extreme provocation, gives a sense of power which nothing else can give.  To feel that you are always, not sometimes, master of yourself, gives a dignity and strength to character, buttresses it, supports it on every side, as nothing else can.  This is the culmination of thought mastery.”

— Orison Swett Marden, Peace, Power & Plenty (1909)

Influence can be defined as the ability to move a person or persons to a desired action, usually within the context of a specific goal.  Generally speaking, there are two types of influence:  One is through force or manipulation and the other is through persuasion.  Not only is persuasion more benevolent than force (which, at best, leads to the compliance only), it is also much more effective, both for short-term “buy-in” and for long-term commitment.

I love what my great friend, leadership authority Dondi Scumaci says:  “Compliance will never take you where commitment can go.”  In the persuasion process, we are indeed gently moving a person to take a different viewpoint and/or action than he would have taken without our influence.

Interestingly, however, the first person we must have influence over is ourselves.  After all, while no one can make us angry, frustrated, flustered, unhappy, miserable, or any of the other negative emotions, they can certainly say and do things that push our buttons and begin the process.  And once we begin acting out of emotion, our ability to persuade is all but ruined.

So, let’s take a look at one of the major keys to the influence and persuasion process, an important part of self-control:  the ability to respond instead of react.

When dealing with any potential adversary (not necessarily meaning a literal enemy, but one with whom you might have a conflict or disagreement), you will face the same choice again and again:  whether to respond rationally or react emotionally.  Though the words respond and react are similar, the difference between the two is quite significant.

I still recall, on one of his audio programs more than twenty-five years ago, Zig Ziglar — in his distinctive and magnificent southern drawl — asking, “Did you respond well to the medication your doctor prescribed, or did you have a bad reaction?”  That describes the two ideas perfectly.

Yes, the mighty person controls his emotions rather than letting his emotions control his behavior.  This self-control is important and powerful, not only in what it allows you to do, but in who it allows you to be.  Referring to the above Marden quote, knowing that you are always in control of yourself supports your character like nothing else can.

When you react, you are being controlled by outside circumstances, whether it be a difficult situation or person.  When you respond, however, you are in control of yourself, of your emotions.

In other words, as my dad likes to says, “You’re the boss of yourself.”  Then — and only then — are you in a position to take a potentially negative situation and turn it into something positive for you and everyone involved.

Short term, you’ll find yourself much more comfortable and relaxed knowing that you can handle any potentially difficult situation that comes your way.  You’ll do so without being thrown off track, and you’ll feel good about yourself for having handled it correctly.

Long term, you’ll have a true feeling, inside and out, of self-confidence for having handled countless situations that previously would have thrown you for a loop and perhaps upset your entire day.

Now, I can assure you, from personal experience, that this doesn’t mean you won’t mess up from time to time.  But those times will be few and far between.  And you’ll always be aware of why it happened, which will help you adjust and course-correct for the next time around.

So, how do you develop response consciousness?  The same way you develop any other skill:  You practice.  First, set a goal for yourself to live in this type of consciousness. Then come up with a plan.  For example:

  1. Imagine situations where you’ll have the opportunity to respond instead of react, and see yourself doing it perfectly.  Like an astronaut simulating a flight, this will serve as great practice.
  2. Write the words “Respond vs. React” on yellow sticky notes and put them in places where you’ll constantly see them — your phone, your computer, your bathroom mirror, etc.
  3. Practice responding to normally difficult situations and people throughout the day, taking pleasure in your victories (victories over yourself!).  Remember, each small success retrains your brain, allowing for continued success in similar situations in the future.
  4. If you’d like, you can even keep score at the end of each day by grading yourself from one to ten (perfect).  Don’t get frustrated with low beginning scores, but take great pleasure in seeing the scores get higher and higher every day.  They will.

You won’t have to go through the visioning, sticky-note, and scoring process forever; only until you’ve reached a high enough level of proficiency.  After that, only general awareness is required.  For many of us, myself included, this is an ongoing journey.

It’s also worth it — very, very worth it!

Bob Burg

Bob Burg speaks at corporate conferences and entrepreneurial events. His books (which include Endless Referrals and The Go-Giver) have altogether sold more than a million copies. His newest book is Adversaries Into Allies: Win People Over Without Manipulation or Coercion. To read Chapter One, visit While there, check out his Go-Givers International Membership Community.