Don’t React Respond Strategically
A few months ago, someone close to me posted a comment on Facebook that was hurtful to me. I discovered it when another friend texted a copy of the post to me. I usually have an even-keeled temperament, but in this instance I was fairly upset when I saw it. Within seconds my thoughts were racing, and I was ready to send the person a nasty text. I wanted to give them a piece of my mind. Set them straight. But I stopped.
I’m glad I didn’t act on my first thoughts. What held me back stems from a lesson I learned a while back. It is simply:
Someone may refute me and say, “Wes, sometimes we should react.” And I agree, there are times a reaction is needed, but those moments are rare. React if someone is physically threatening you or those around you. React if someone crosses a line verbally by using foul language toward you or someone you love. Otherwise, take it in. Hush your shrieking, growling emotions like a mother presses her hand to the mouth of her screaming two year-old at church. Let the storm pass. Then, and only then, deliberate your response.
In the instant I read the hurtful Facebook post, I felt an innate reaction to retaliate. You know, that urge we get to write a nasty email, honk our horn, or lash out in anger. I felt the need to react powerfully and wanted to retaliate immediately.
But there was another voice inside my head saying, Wes, don’t do it. Don’t do it! You know better. In moments of anger, the part of our brain reserved for reasoning and judgment is overpowered with neurons from other centers that control emotions. As a result, we are almost always certain our retaliation is justified, even necessary. In those moments of what feels like absolute clarity, we are compelled to put a stop to someone or draw a boundary. But my friend, these kinds of interactions only lead to detour us from a solution.
The best responses to assaults are measured. They are strategic. I am not implying we should be strategic in the way we repay the hurt, to be conniving, to wait cunningly, and then attack those who hurt us. If our goal is to hurt the other person in response, we are coming from the wrong place to begin with. Our goal should be to find resolution, never to repay the hurt. We should be thoughtful in how we seek the best solution, to do what is best for the other person, and to see where we need to grow—together. We must not let our raw emotions control the day by striking back. On the other hand, we should operate with grace, wisdom, and love. Sure, sometimes a boundary must be defined. But most boundaries can be drawn gently, without taking large tolls on our relationships.
Strategy usually requires waiting and deliberating—sometimes for days, depending on the situation. We must think things through calmly. Many times we must seek advice, and take extended time to think and reflect. In my case, one week later I sat down with that person face-to-face. I was prepared to bring up the Facebook post. But it turned out the person had another huge issue that needed to be addressed. So I never mentioned the Facebook post. I let it go. I believe it was the right decision for our relationship. I chose to address another relevant issue to our relationship. And as our relationship began to improve by dealing with this other problem, the issue of the Facebook post naturally stopped on its own.
My leader friend, next time you are about to boil over, remember these two words: don’t react. The best leaders are calm, thoughtful, and strategic.
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