The Power of a Reality Check, Moving from Reactive to Responsive

If the foundation to creating an environment of trust, respect and safety is having the right mindset and emotional awareness to support ourselves, our team and our organization, what happens when we get triggered and thrown off of our foundation?

When we get triggered, oftentimes we can make decisions based on that reaction rather than pausing, taking a moment and making a powerful choice based on the information in front of you or even identify information you need to receive.

There is a tool I use with my clients that’s a diagnostic – it’s a way to analyze the situation for what it is in front of you and to move forward based on being responsive vs. reactive.

Oftentimes when we are triggered, we create an interpretation of events that seldom resembles the truth. It’s a version of what truly happened. If I put you on the stand in a court of law and asked you to share the facts of an instance rarely are there more than a few facts, such as what a client shared after a conversation with his boss.

He was asking his boss for another head count for his team. When his boss said no, he was furious since he was overwhelmed, overloaded and doesn’t believe his boss understands at all what he does, let alone his workload.

When we analyzed the conversation, we talked about what his intention is for his relationship with his boss. His intention was collaboration and alignment. When we examine what his boss actually said it looked very different than his interpretation. I asked him what were the facts of what the boss said—not his interpretation— just the facts. As if he was in a court of law and asked for the facts, he shared that what his boss actually said was: he didn’t believe it was necessary to hire another person.


Let’s talk about it. His interpretation of what his boss said was:

  • He wants to make all the decisions— by me asking for something it takes the power away from him.
  • He should know what I do; he doesn’t understand my work.
  • I don’t need to brief him; he’s simply trying to insert himself into the process and validate himself.
  • His actions were not constructive.
  • He thinks everyone can do everything—people don’t have strengths or weaknesses and I can do it all no matter what.
  • I don’t feel validated.
  • There is no respect for my craft.
  • Felt like a failure if I couldn’t make this come true.
  • This is a such a good thing and I don’t understand why this is being stopped.
  • What I do must not matter.


I asked what the impact was if he continued to see the situation through the lens of his interpretations. He said:

  • The work environment would be one that I just survive in and not thrive.
  • Not inspiring.
  • I constantly have to walk on eggshells.
  • My initiative is being suppressed.
  • Our relationship will never get better.


Interpretation leads to meaning which can lead to disaster

It’s human nature to create interpretations of situations – this is perfectly normal. The issue with having interpretations is when we attach meaning to it. An interpretation becomes real when we make it mean something and then we make that meaning the truth when it’s simply an interpretation of the facts.

The irony of this is that we don’t see that we are at choice. We chose this precise interpretation and then we made it the TRUTH, fact – then we take actions based on those perceived facts.

These choices can become our default lenses and biases of how we see people, places and things. You can see how pervasive this loop is for yourself based on the results you want and the relationships you desire. Are you achieving them?

Going back to our example, if we relook at his intention for his relationship with his boss which is alignment and collaboration, how does that support the impact he wants to make? It doesn’t. He could also see for himself that he chose to make what his boss said – that he doesn’t think it’s necessary to hire another person – mean simply that he needs to find out exactly why his boss feels the way he does.

So, what are actions he can take that will indeed align with his intention? He decided instead of seeing the world from his interpretations, he would sit down and have a candid, transparent conversation with his boss and lead from the intention of being aligned and having clarity.

If our workplaces are such stressful environments and if we see the world only through our interpretations, we may not set others or ourselves up to succeed. In fact, we may only see the worst in others and not the best. This creates further and unnecessary conflict and avoidance and the impact is severe—a lack of collaboration, responsiveness, productivity and innovation.

This diagnostic is a terrific way to keep you in check, to give you pause and to move from a thoughtful, respectful and responsible place.


Esther Weinberg is the Chief Leadership Development Officer and Founder of The Ready Zone. To dive deeper into the ideas and strategies offered in this article, complete our Needs Assessment and we’ll schedule time to connect.


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