Fight or Flight… What About Respond?

It’s human nature to take the path of either fight or flight when faced with perilous situations. On the most basic level, when attacked by let’s say a mountain lion, our basic instincts will tell us to choose between fight or flight. The same can be said for smaller scale confrontations, i.e. in the workplace. In a communication exchange, it’s common for one party to react defensively when confronted, spouting off responses (fight) before thinking it through. Another common exchange results in individuals shutting down completely (flight), avoiding the chance to communicate their thoughts or feelings. Fight or flight. But there is a third, more effective approach – learning to respond with patience, coherency, and empathy.


Exercising patience and good judgment are both key factors in crafting a positive response during a communication exchange, particularly during an emotionally charged one. By taking a few seconds to think through your response, you can avoid escalating the situation. Take a few seconds, a breath, or a step back before reacting. Listen to what is being said, process that information, and move forward with the intent to find a solution that works for all parties. By thinking rationally and avoiding the temptation to respond reactively, you’ll greatly improve your chances for a positive outcome.


Once you’ve taken a step back from the confrontation at hand, it’s also wise to think with a sense of coherency, good sense, and understandability. What are the needs of the person you are communicating with? What are they trying to achieve? Once you have a strong understanding of what’s being communicated, you can take the steps towards resolution by acting with sense rather than reacting from a place of revenge or bruised egos. Avoid the temptation to react (fight) and instead make a concerted effort to understand and work towards a positive outcome. Don’t fight or flight…respond with intention.


It’s easy to take the defensive or to automatically turn your thoughts inward to your own self and your own thoughts, but a great way to avoid escalating conflict is by considering BOTH sides of the issue. Listen. Tap into the feelings of others. Respond compassionately. Oftentimes, negative communication can stem from issues that might not even be related to the topic at hand. If a coworker or employee is visibly upset, compassionately ask them to explain what is going on. By exercising empathy and compassion, you’re avoiding both fight and flight by responding with care. The outcome can be tremendous to not only on the communication exchange but to your work relationship as a whole.

Conflict happens. We can work to minimize conflict, but more importantly, we can practice key ways to neutralize conflict as it arises. Communication exchanges can escalate quickly when cool heads don’t prevail. Before choosing fight or flight, take the time to listen and respond with patience, coherency, and empathy. Avoid the urge to immediately react and instead, respond with the intention of creating a positive exchange.

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