Thursday, December 29, 2005

Reactive Vs. Proactive Language.

While reading the habit 1 of Stephan Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one interesting fact that I noticed is that our language gives away our proactive and /or reactive nature in us. The language that we use naturally reflects whether we are acting proactively or reactively. So it is interesting to note the language that we use, be self-aware, to step aside from our own selves and to notice the language that we are using.

If we are being reactive, Covey suggests that we will be using language that usually absolves us from responsibility. Our language will suggest that we are the victim of the situation, environment or our conditioning, rather than the feeling of being in control.

We make so many generalized reactive statements that reflect the deep buried reactive nature and the conditioning that we have received over the years. These statements are so generalized, we tend to accept these as part of our nature or the way the world is. Consider statements like,
“There’s nothing I can do”
“They make me so mad”
“That’s the way I am”
“I don’t have the time”
“They do that to me”
“I have to do this”
“I can’t, that’s me”

Then there are reactive statements that that put us at the mercy of others, where we shun away from responsibility and blame everything on the other person or a particular factor.
“If only my wife was more understanding…”
“If only my boss was not a jerk…”
“If only my work didn’t take up all my time…”

Another way to identify the reactive language is to identify the have’s in our language. These have’s put away our happiness or our effectiveness to be based on the out come of some other incident, or an occurrence. This language puts the problem out there. It is in effect saying that we are being limited by something out there, something that we do not have at the moment. That is statements like:
“I’ll be relieved when I have my loans paid off”
“I’ll take a vacation when I reach my targets”
“If I had a degree”
“If I had a better job”
“I’ll start exercising after the workload eases”
“If only I had a more understanding wife”

Such language, as mentioned earlier absolves us from responsibility. The whole intention is to shift the responsibility away from us. But in the process, it radiates that we are not able to chose our response and that the situation or the other party or the environment is driving us. It emits the notion that we are helpless, victimized. We tend to blame factors external to us for all our problems and miseries. It puts the problem out in the circle of concern, away from the circle of influence. And we become to engross by this, this becomes internalized and we start to believe and act according to the victims’ mindset.

As the chapter on being proactive suggests, if you listen carefully for one full day, to your own language and to the language of those around you, we will better understand this.

So if this is the language of reactive mindset, then what is the language of proactive mind?
Covey suggests that proactive language, embraces responsibility and takes charge of the situation. Nothing is left to chance. If something is being done, it’s not because we are forced to it, but because we choose to do it. Remember, we are response-able, free to choose our response. So we are not victims, but we are the masters. And proactive language exuberates this.

Proactive language puts our actions within the circle of influence. It does not put the problem ‘out there’. It identifies the part of the problem that is ‘in here’. It will identify parts of the solution within direct control or indirect control areas. It will sound like this:
“Let’s look at what we can do”
“Let’s choose a different approach”
“I will do this”
“I am in control of my own feelings”
“I can do this”
“I choose”
“I will”

And proactive language will consist of the “be’s” instead of the “have’s”. It will focus on what we can be, or what we can do, rather than depending on the outcome of something else. Such as “I can be more loving”, “I will be more compassionate”, “I can be more understanding”, etc. When we focus on things within our control, things within our circle of influence, we are concentrating on being rather than having.

So, watch your language and identify your reactive and proactive moments. And then, you can work on converting the reactive moments to proactive moments through the advise given by Stephen covey in his best selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.


Anonymous said...

Great post! I use the 7 Habits while teaching my Human Relations class. Sometimes I fear that I'm getting mundane so I look around for others' interpretations. Yours are wonderful and have inspired me for a great teaching experience! Thanks. - margie

Sampath said...

Hi Margie,

I am thrilled that my writing has inspired you in some tiny way atleast. And thanks a lot for leaving a comment. That gives me the motivation to go on.


Carmen said...

I'm glad I came across this post. I will use your insight on my upcoming job interviews. Executive Assistants are always expected to have a proactive mentality.

Sampath said...

Hi Carmen,

I am glad this post has helped you in some way.

Also, keep in mind another thing. Always go to a job interview with a positive attitude. Don't feel cahllenged by the other candidates. Act as it you have got the job already.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

This is great! I"m taking the 7 Habits class at my university and you have done a great job of breaking down some of the "hard to grasp" concepts. Thanks :) Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

My friend at work had me read pages 78-80 because i'm confused in my marriage.. it made me realize i should be more proactive

Anonymous said...

I am glad that i have read your post. I am using the 7 Habits to teach ministers in our church. Your examples and insights on Habit 1 are very useful.
Stilson Muhwezi
Kampala Uganda

Xee Vue said...

How can proactive/reactive language affect self-esteem?

By using proactive language an individual exerts more confidence than someone who doesn't. Their perspective on life is not about letting things bother them easily by someone else’s negative words or actions. They can brush off the negative energy and focus on what's at value or important. Their view of the world is optimistic versus someone who is reactive will see the world as being against them on everything. The reactive people will cast blame of others and never have the self-control and confidence to acknowledge their own faults. Reactionaries lack confidence because of self-doubt in getting things done right.

Xee Vue

Suzzy Vang said...

Thank you for explaining the difference between the two! You blog has helped me gain a better understanding and also really enlightens my soul to see how passionate you are with the lessons within the book!