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Forget Proactivity, Try Using Reactivity Instead

My mentor Rich said something last week that really got me thinking.  He was talking about our own self-awareness and how that can serve us as leaders.  In particular, he spoke about monitoring our reactions to those around us.

Our reactions to others help inform us about ourselves and areas we need to grow. Our reactions may be positive, but more frequently they are negative.  By that I mean that we find ourselves feeling ticked off or angry.  A common example of that for me is when someone tells me to do something.  I was recently asked to send a reminder about a meeting that occurs every two weeks.  My first reaction was annoyance – I don’t like to be told what to do, it feels controlling.  And if I think about it, these are the types of things that happen to me all the time.  I probably would not even notice this particular annoyance if I hadn’t been looking for it.

When I reflected on it, I realized that I was annoyed by this request for two reasons. First, I don’t like to be controlled. I also realized that in this case, I was not clear with this particular individual who asked me to send the reminder.  There was a previous issue between us.  They had not done something else that I had expected and I was feeling hurt about it.  So the question about the meeting bugged me, because it was a painful reminder of the state of our relationship.

What else can our reactivity tell us?  It can help us to reveal our faulty thought processes.  After tracking my reactivity for over a week, I found that many or most of my reactions are about being a victim. I feel that people are out to hurt me, or that I am not responsible for what happens to me. Ouch!

Our awareness of our reactivity can move us to action, help us to get clear, and it can also show us ways to improve our relationships. Or our reactivity may reveal a desire, a need, or a hunger in us that is not being met.  An area that I am very reactive around is when people act entitled or when they ask to have things their way.  This happened to me just yesterday.  I was in a meeting of about 30 people – some that I knew and some that I did not.  A man that I did not know entered the conference room and walked over to the thermostat and set it on 70 degrees. He did not consult anyone, poll the room, or make any sort of announcement.  He just decided to set the thermometer at 70 because HE wanted it at 70. I was outraged, but only because I wouldn’t take care of myself this way.  I don’t (yet) feel entitled enough to have things the way I want them.

So my challenge for you is this – begin to track your reactivity. Do it for a week and see what you learn about yourself.  It may sound easy or dumb but I want to encourage you to simply try it for a week or so.  It is really simple to do – just record the person and event that made you reactive. I started this about a week ago and I have 28 items already. It is easy when you are as reactive as I am!  Let’s compare notes at the end of the week.