Can you discern that/when I react or respond?

In a dialogue, can you discern when I “reply” to you in a reactive way, rather than in a responsive way ?
Secondly, suppose I did react to what you said, than what does it mean to you to respond to my reaction, and not react to it, which will perpetuate the chain of reactions in our interaction ?
Thanks !


I’m not sure how literally you mean this question Crina? Are you asking how we discern when a person is reacting instead of responding? (or, correspondingly, how we can tell when a person is responding rather than reacting?)

I’m not sure that there is an absolutely certain way of knowing this, short of mind-reading.

However, using our interpersonal awareness or emotional intelligence (“reading between the lines”), sometimes it is evident - from the tone of a person’s voice, their physical demeanour, or the personal and unrelated nature of their remarks - that they are in the throes of a reaction to something that has been said.

We are familiar with this because we all react sometimes, so we relate our own susceptibility for being reactive to other people with whom we interact. The danger is that we project our own reactivity onto another who may not be reacting at all. - Which is why we cannot be absolutely certain in our judgements of others.

Some people are able to mask their reactions very well (the so-called “poker-face”), and so have the appearance of merely responding and listening, when inwardly they are full of reactivity. While others are relatively transparent with their reactions: they do not make a great effort to dissemble what they feel.

Do you mean, what is our responsibility towards the person who is reacting? It probably differs in different situations - but if one can help it, then not to add to the reactivity is probably wisest. But, if they are capable of listening through their reactivity, then pointing out to them that they are (or at least, might be) reacting, is an act of friendship.

But surely the real question is, how are we to respond to our own reactions (with which we are in more direct contact than with the other person’s)?

Maybe some inward space to observe ourselves as we react (either by removing ourselves from the immediate situation, or being quiet for a little while)?

But if one can be transparent about one’s own reactivity (and communicate it factually, rather than reactively), that might help too.

What do you think?

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