A Personal Resilience Credo – Part 3: Response

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

This column, and those that follow for the next year, will illustrate the key principle practices of the Personal Resilience Credo, which was created through my experience working with a Top 100 company to help to bolster the resilience of the employee group. (See previous posts, or my column in issue 264 of SaskBusiness for a full description of the Credo).

Principle Practice: RESPONSE – “I choose to humbly and purpose-fully exercise my freedom to respond, to be aligned in principle, word and behaviour — expanding my capacity in life and mission”.

To set the context for this practice, I define “response” to be the opposite of “react”. Reacting is a type of response, but it lacks a pause; it is immediate, without thought. By contrast, response is attached to a space; a pause. This pause allows time for a choice. Once we understand the relationship between response and choice, we can realize that there can be no growth without pause, for growth requires choices.

Every human being comes with a whack-load (I acknowledge that this is not a quantifiable measurement) of self-limiting behaviours. Many of these behaviours are so reactive that we are not even aware that we are doing them – which results in us not understanding the impact of our behaviours on ourselves and on others.

Barry is a high-flying executive. He grew up in a home of privilege and received a solid education. He has a gift for building business and his business has enjoyed prosperity – in spite of a high level of staff turnover. If we were to conduct an exit-interview with these former employees, they might tell us that they found Frank to be impatient and volatile. They might cite situations where Barry cut them off during conversations, jumped to conclusions and made extraordinary demands of them – without taking the time to understand their present reality, challenges, or explore obstacles to improvement.

Barry feels that he is performing as an elite and accomplished executive – after all, his business is profitable. Barry sees his high employee turnover as a labor market issue, and he wishes someone, somewhere, would do a better job of training candidates for the positions he has available. He contemplates bringing in a consultant to help him fix the problem, and he sees “them” (his employees) as core to the problem. He believes that there wouldn’t be a turnover issue if they were simply more dedicated, and he enjoys the opportunity to imply (or explicitly state) that he is the main reason for his business success.

What might it look like if Barry were more aware of his behaviour and its impacts? Instead of reacting and cutting people off mid-sentence, he might wait for them to communicate their message, ensure that he understands them, and then respond in a respectful way.. By beginning to practice the key principle of response by heeding Frankl’s advice and inserting a space after stimulus, Barry might even begin to experience a reduction in employee turnover, and an increase in the ‘dedication’ of his current workforce.. This would lead to higher levels of employee engagement, innovation and long-term sustainability.

For Barry to be able to respond instead of react, he must practice humility. Humility, in this sense, is a reduction of arrogance, and an increase in receptiveness. Barry would begin to acknowledge that other people can make valued contributions, and that he may not know all there is to know about a particular issue. Humility enables response. Arrogance drives reaction. Barry is free to be arrogant, but at what cost?

Reading this, we may be tempted to think of a Barry that we once worked for – but response-ability is not only a practice for leadership; we all benefit from nurturing our individual practice of response. When we choose to “humbly and purpose-fully exercise (our) freedom to respond” we enable better choices. Better choices lead to richer relationships, higher levels of engagement, and enjoyment — “expanding (our) capacity in life and mission”.

As Frankl would suggest, our nurturing practice of response will result in valuable growth in our life – and a freedom from that whack-load of self-limiting behaviours.