Will You Respond or React?

Are you responding or reacting?

Are you responding or reacting?

Every so often, a message will be repeated in a number of venues. Now, I may not be the sharpest tool in the proverbial shed, but when an author, a pastor, and a podcaster all mention “Respond versus React” in the span of a week, my ears perk up and I pay attention.

Even more to the point, each of the folks mentioned above talked about “Respond versus React” in completely different contexts.

Business/Personal Development

The author, Greg McKeown, writes in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less about creating a “buffer” when determining how to execute one’s system of working through what is essential in your life and what is non-essential. When he wrote about using space as a buffer in traffic (while explaining the buffer concept to his children), he said:

[The buffer] gave us time to respond and adapt to any sudden or unexpected moves by other cars.

McKeown is using an illustration to explain how your time management can improve by creating an extra buffer for unexpected events and preparing early as opposed to at the last-minute.

Personal Relationships

In church this past week, the pastor included this in the notes:

I let my values determine my responses, rather than letting my emotions drive my reactions.

Are you starting to see a theme?

It seems to me that the distinction between Respond and React is fairly clear. But if you’re not convinced, here’s one final example.


Do you want to respond to medication or react to it?

This is probably the best example of the difference between the two possibilities. When you “respond” to medication, that is a positive outcome; however, if you are “reacting” to a medicine or treatment, it’s all bad.

So, how does the concept of “respond” or “react” correlate with police work? Innumerably.

First, let’s think at a simple level. Go back to McKeown’s example with traffic. When driving around in your patrol car or on your motor (like one of the cool kids), leaving that literal buffer between you and the person ahead of you is a no-brainer. Just like you would in your personal car, operating a department vehicle should be done safely.

Second, and more importantly, let’s talk about citizen contacts. It doesn’t matter if they’re traffic stops, calls for service, or someone chatting you up whilst waiting for coffee. If things start to go south on you, do you want to respond or react?

When a driver lashes out at you, reacting will tend to get you in trouble. I know…because I’ve reacted before. But, if you respond, it tends to be more professional, well-though out, or simply in not saying anything at all.

I would argue that keeping one’s mouth shut is response enough.

Finally, from a tactical standpoint and returning to the concept of the buffer, consider a traffic stop or citizen contact.

Distance and cover is your friend. If the party to whom you’re speaking is agitated, is it a grand plan to be within arm’s reach? How about turning your attention away from the suspect or vehicle? Of course not.  Keeping that distance, that buffer, truly gives you time to respond and adapt.

If you’re standing with arm’s reach of someone when they lose their minds and reach for your gun, you absolutely must react. Your reaction may save your life, right?

But, if you create enough distance, you’ll get that extra time to respond and adapt to the moves the suspect is making. The time may not be significant in terms of increment, but it will be significant enough to make a difference in the number of options available to you.

Remember, and say it with me:

I would rather Respond than React.


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