Run, run, run. React to this, react to that. How can you be effective when you are continuously being pulled into situations? You want a way out and you think the solution is to become proactive. But how? And what does this mean? Are you now simply pushing the same people and situations that used to be pulling you? And how can you know if you are headed in the right direction?
Being reactive implies your action begins after the fact; acting in response to a stimulus or situation, as if simply poised waiting for something to happen. I don’t think this is ever the case. I usually feel reactive when I am hit with something I did not anticipate.
The other tactic is to be proactive, which implies that your response is preceding the action. Creating a solution before being requested to have one. Anticipating what is needed and having it ready. This seems like a great position to be in; however you need to know what to be ready for. You cannot anticipate everything. The important question is how to be selective?
What does it mean to be Reactive or Proactive?
A little analysis will show something about these two tactics or styles of business effort.
Benefits: When you are reactive you know there is a situation requiring action. Unfortunately the correct action is usually needed prior to you hearing about it, so you now take corrective action – clean up the mess or stop the leaks. A proactive tactic may head off trouble or anticipate a request. Or, you may be off the mark. You may be doing something unwanted. You will only find this out after you are done – the hero if you focused on the correct situation, reacting yet again if you did not.
Learning: Not much is learned in either case. A reactive style doesn’t pay much attention to expanding knowledge, new skills or finding a better way. There is not much time to learn when you get one situation handled and another pops up. The proactive style is always looking forward; it rarely reflects or evaluates results.
Costs: A lot of effort goes into both tactics. They each take enormous amounts of energy to keep going. Neither is mindful of resources. The reactive style throws everything available at the situation and the proactive style often uses resources to plan ahead in areas that are not needed or important.
Characterizations: A Reactive style is coiled, anticipating, and defensive. The Proactive style is pushing out, busy, and alert. Both are vigilant stances.
Be Effective, be Interactive
What would be an alternative to these two styles? Being Interactive. This means you get involved and stay involved with people without there being a problem or situation. You know what is happening around you. What are your bosses’ goals? What concerns do your peers and customers have? If you have people reporting to you, what are they thinking about? And don’t be shy about your own goals and needs. Make sure other people know what you are thinking and planning. The more you know about your organization and the more people know about your goals, the more successful the organization and you will be.
An analysis of interactive tactics shows a different picture.
Benefits: You are very involved with your environment.
Learning: High levels of insight and knowledge building.
Costs: Maximization of resources; not waiting, not over planning or jumping the gun.
Characterization: Involved, asking questions, doing research, finding out how things work, what is needed, what isn’t.
Will being interactive mean that you will never be blindsided and start to feel reactive? No. However, when the unexpected happens you will have a better sense of how urgent the matter is because you will know the priorities of your business. You will know who to work with so it can be resolved with a minimum of fuss and effort. Does it also mean you never have to be proactive? Of course not, in fact a proactive style will be a natural outcome of being interactive. You will know what is needed and not have to second guess those around you – you will know that you are headed in the right direction and have support and understanding from colleagues and clients.
Will everyone respond positively to this change? No. However most will respond well as they see you are interested in them and their concerns and goals. And others will come around as you practice and model this new tactic and they begin to see the benefits.
How to change tactics
How do you make this shift? Try these suggestions and then share them with everyone.
1) Take time to debrief with all involved; especially from reactive situations. Work with these questions: What could have been done differently? Do we need a contingency plan in place for this (process, strategy, etc.)?
2) Create learning situations with clients and colleagues. Teach what you do and know. Learn what others do and what they need. Update this learning often.
3) Be creative – use the learning to the benefit of all parties. Share ideas, link ideas. Look for best practices, benchmarking, clear roles and responsibilities.
4) Look for barriers to understanding and cooperation. Then work with others to eliminate these as they arise.
5) When going into a new situation, ask of everyone: What do you want to happen? How will we measure our success? Look for understanding, past successful actions – start out right.
6) When completing a task, ask everyone: How could this be better?
Use these suggestions to reduce frustration and anxiety and introduce stability and creativity.
They say it is lonely at the top; this is nothing compared to being stuck in a reactive or clueless proactive position – not being effective when you want to do well. Being interactive gives you a tactic to work well with people. And it might be the tactic that gets you to the top, so you can find out if it is really all that lonely.
© Fritz M. Brunner, Ph.D. 2005