Let’s start out with a quiz:

1. You’ve been sitting at a red light forever.  It finally turns green but the driver in front of you isn’t paying attention, probably texting, and the cars in all the other lanes are proceeding through the intersection.  Do you: (a) honk your horn; or (b) force yourself to wait patiently?

2. You’ve been on hold with the gas company for 20 minutes, gearing up to complain about the huge increase in your bill.  Finally, a human voice greets you and then abruptly disconnects you.  Do you (a) swear, throw the phone, and fume; or (b) immediately call back?

3.  You are attempting to return the boots you bought at a major department store.  You have your receipt, but the clerk is insisting that the boots have been worn and won’t accept the return.  Do you (a) raise your voice, insisting that the boots were worn by other customers who tried them on before you; or (b) quietly ask to speak to the manager?

It should be obvious that if you chose (a) as your answer to any or all of these questions, you were reacting.  And if you chose (b) you were responding.

Reacting is instinctive.  It’s also habitual.  We open our mouths and blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.  Responding, however, takes thought.

Which leads me to my first suggestion about how to tame your instinct to react.  Count to five and think. You can count as quickly or as slowly as you like, but please use that time to choose your words.

Which leads me to my second suggestion, consider your choices.  Before you honk the horn, before you slam the phone down, or yell at the clerk, evaluate your options and think about what happens next.

Which leads me to my third suggestion, take a look at potential consequences.  I know we don’t have a crystal ball at our disposal, yet we can run through a couple of “what ifs” in our minds.

Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Who has the time to take these steps?”  Please understand that this adjustment won’t happen overnight.  And completely disregard all of these suggestions if you’re faced with a life-or-death emergency.  In all other situations, slowing down to respond rather than react doesn’t mean you’re going to take forever (although counting to five might seem like it).  Instead, you’re preparing to give a thoughtful response.

Slowing down the conversation has benefits beyond the react versus respond issue.  It comes with a warning, however, that the other party might not understand why you’re silently counting to five, so you probably should communicate that.  “Give me a moment” is an efficient and a sufficient way to convey your need to respond rather than react.  The not-so-hidden benefit is that while you’re thinking, you are showing others that they can have thinking time as well.

Once you begin to model better behavior, you are setting an example and encouraging others to do the same.