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Stop Reacting, Start Responding

A level head is important in both your personal and professional lives

Harvey Mackay headshot
Harvey Mackay
Reacting vs responding

Wishing to encourage her young son’s progress on the piano, a mother took her little boy to a concert featuring the famous pianist, Paderewski. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her. Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, the little boy rose and eventually explored his way through a door marked “No Admittance.”

When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that her son was missing. Suddenly the curtains parted, and the spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway piano on stage.

In horror, the mother saw her son sitting at the keyboard. Innocently, he then began to play “Chopsticks.” The crowd reacted with disgust. Who would bring a little boy to a concert?

When Paderewski heard the uproar backstage, he grabbed his coat and rushed to the stage. He went to the piano and reached around the little boy from behind. The master began to improvise a countermelody to “chopsticks.” As the two of them played together, Paderewski kept whispering “Keep going. Don’t quit, son ... don’t stop ... don’t stop.”

The old master and the little boy transformed an embarrassing situation into a wonderfully creative experience. The audience was mesmerized.

You might remember seeing a version of this story in a recent TV ad from the Foundation for a Better Life.

Instinctive Reactions

I learned early on, especially as a parent, that how you react to situations is huge. It’s hard not to act emotionally. That’s how our brains are wired to react. Reactions are instinctive. Resist the urge. When you react with emotions, you do and say things without thinking and don’t realize the ramifications of your comments.

Emotions can be like a ticking time bomb. Learning how to control your emotions can do wonders for your health.

Instead of reacting to these types of situations, learn how to respond and focus on the outcome rather than on the emotions. Successful people have a plan on how to respond positively and productively. Practicing self-control is a learned trait, and it pays to study hard to acquire that skill.

Change your emotions and you can change your life. Anger is an emotion that fades over time, so a good defensive strategy is to pause and create some space between your emotions and reactions. Just a few seconds can help. Why do you think teachers and parents give their children timeouts? Give yourself a timeout! If you need to, walk away or take several deep breaths to calm yourself down.

It’s also possible to train your mind to respond slower. When you slow down you feel more in control. Take a minute to put the situation in perspective. Will it really make things better if you fly off the handle?

Know The Triggers

Be aware of what triggers your reactions. Is it frustration, anger, anxiety or something else? Why did this situation occur, and could it have been avoided?

Empathy is another way to respond to situations positively. You never know what is going on in the lives of others that might cause them to behave in a certain way. A little empathy can go a long way.

I have found that coaching myself and self-talk are also beneficial techniques. I try to block out negative thoughts and replace them with positive responses. I tell myself I have everything under control. That helps me avoid knee-jerk reactions that I will likely regret later.

A level head is important in both your personal and professional lives. No one wants to do business with a hothead. If your behavior is affecting your bottom line, fix it now.

I’m not saying that any of this is easy. I’m guilty of letting my emotions get the best of me sometimes. But I try to learn from those missteps and consider how I could have handled the situation better. It takes a lot of hard work to break a bad habit, but it’s worth it.

Most of us live and work in such hectic and pressure-ridden environments that it’s wise to remember the words of the psychiatrist who said to his assistant who was trying to answer two telephones at once. “Miss Smith,” he said, “just say we’re terribly busy — not ‘It’s a madhouse here.’”

Mackay’s Moral: Keep your cool when you’re hot under the collar.

This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine September 2022 issue.
Harvey Mackay headshot
Harvey Mackay
Published on
Aug 31, 2022
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