Reactive Vs. Proactive Language.

This post first appeared on my blog on December 29, 2005.


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.


  2. FAirie

    Some businesses use psychological torture methods on employees to get rid of people they can’t afford to pay.

    Some businesses are mismanaged and reactive from the top down, they blame employees for consequences of their lack of management. Employees in these type of businesses who want to keep their sanity should play along, pretending to be reactive while biding their time to leave. If enough people leave someone up the top will notice eventually, most likely not.
    Draining to see if you have a conscience and GREAT to get out of when you know you can. It’s your choice!

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  4. Dwight foster

    End with a memory of where we began.

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  8. Thanks for finally talking about >Reactive Vs.
    Proactive Language. | Sampath’s Mindspace <Loved it!

  9. Great article. Thanks for the share. This article made me think of Christmas and I was wondering what would be a really good present to get my wife. Any ideas guys?

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