Perhaps it is the scientist in me, but recently I have conducted a few (human) reactivity experiments. They are rather simple…I say something mildly controversial that I know the person may not like and just observe how they react.  The different levels of response are amazing! The three broad categories of response I’ve found are:

  • Hurtful response
  • Clear agitation
  • Calm and cool

In the case of a “hurtful response,” the person responded to my comment very negatively, and, without significant provocation, proceeded to make comments toward me that were intended to be hurtful. No bueno.

The person who exhibited “clear agitation” tried to reign in their annoyance, but was clearly unhappy about my comments and tried to take me down the road of proving they were correct in their interpretation. (I felt this person was more likely to hold on to the annoyance and seek to prove me wrong in the future.)

It probably comes as no surprise that the responses I found most delightful were the “calm and cool” ones. Either the person let the comment roll off (with a smile!) or politely said something like, “I can appreciate you point of view…I see things a little differently, but I’d like to understand your perspective.” Wow!

This experiment was an educational experience for me to identify those traits that I most appreciated to ensure I was patterning myself in that way…and also to better recognize the types of people I am associating myself with.

After receiving the response that was intended to be hurtful, I informed that person that I did not appreciate the way they spoke to me and told them I thought it best that we not keep in touch. They continued to make further hurtful remarks…which I ignored. I also commended the person who didn’t react and they said, “ah, it was no big deal…why sweat it?” Awesome.

I admit that I felt less inclined to associate with the clearly agitated person also because they seemed to be happy when we were in agreement, but appeared to be counting each disagreement against me and bottling it up. I find the difference between holding something in and letting it fester and grow and literally not caring (and letting it go!) to be a sign of personal fortitude. The habit of holding things in often leads to a more explosive response than being immediately reactive. Both are dangerous reactions.

We have the power to control our reactions to things…especially words. Though my experiment was short, I realized that you can observe these same traits by seeing how that person treats other people (the waitress, their employee, or even their pet!). Are they continuously finding fault and reacting to things happening around them? Are they explosively reacting to minor issues and making them major? Or are they calmly letting things go and maintaining a positive outlook and level of interaction with those around them?

I decided to more consciously seek to be in the company of less reactive people who remain calm and cool in the face of petty annoyances. The emotional and physically active response is generally a sign of weakness…it takes more strength to walk away. In the words of my great krav maga trainer Brian, “The best fight is the one that never happens.”

Photo source: boiling over