Reacting v. Responding in Difficult Employer Situations

Employers often have to make tough decisions based on certain situations that may arise in the company. When interacting with employees, the employer must balance what is best for the company and what is best for the people within that company. An excellent method for achieving the optimal result in these types of situations is to respond rather than react. By highlighting the difference between the two and applying this method to specific situations, an employer can see the benefit of always responding versus reacting. 

The Difference Between the Two

While seeming similar, there is a large difference in the exemplification of reacting and responding. A reaction is instantaneous. Reactions are based on beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the subconscious mind. Think of the phrase ‘knee-jerk reaction’. When you say or do something without thinking, usually tied to emotions such as anger or guilt, that is an example of a reaction. Reactions are made in the moment and do not take into account the long-term effects of what you do or say.

Responding, on the other hand, comes from the result of thoughtfulness, reflection, and consideration of the relevant factors involved in the situation. It weighs the long-term effects and more accurately represents what you believe is best to achieve the balance between the worker and the business. Understanding the difference between responding and reacting and applying that too difficult employer situations can create more favorable outcomes for your company.

Upset Employees 

For the first example, an employee comes into their employer’s office upset about issue x and is threatening to quit. This is never news that an employer wants to hear. An employer could react in various ways: tell them to leave, get defensive, shrug the news off nonchalantly, etc. These are examples of immediate, emotional reactions that an employer may find themselves showing if they do not watch themselves.

Instead, the employer should aim to respond thoughtfully to the upset employee. Asking questions, gaining information, and looking for solutions are examples of positive responses to give. Or, on the flip-side, if the best response is to let the employee leave, then that is acceptable as long as it came from an area of thought and not a knee-jerk reaction.

Low Performance

An employee has been underperforming in their duties and it is hurting the finances of the company. Reactions to this include immediately calling the employee into the office and scolding them, financially threatening them, firing them, etc. Responses take more time to craft, however. Think about if the employee brings more to the company than pure financial gains. Consider if they bring a sense of humor or morale to the rest of the team. After taking notable factors into account, the employer should call the employee into the office and talk to them and figure out what solution is going to be best for the business and the employee.


Employers make important decisions that affect the livelihoods of those around them, most notably the employees. By taking the time to respond rather than react, an employer is better able to control their direct actions in difficult situations and achieve optimal results. If you are a business owner and find yourself in a difficult employer situation, remember to respond rather than react in order to achieve the best results for both the company and your employees.

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