No one is perfect. We all have good days and bad days (at home and at work). There are days when our emotional intelligence is at its peak and days when it is at a low ebb.

Unfortunately, sometimes those low days are also days when we are less productive or under a lot of stress from our bosses, colleagues or selves. It’s how we react or respond to that stress that determines whether we rise above the bad day or become a victim to it.


Defensive reactions are innate, not learned. “Fight or flight” is hardwired into the human brain, and for good reason. Making a quick decision on whether to stand your ground or run away could mean life or death. The impulse, however, to choose without thinking, to allow our hardwiring to control our behavior, is still there. It is our job now to recognize it for what it is—an atavism—and make choices based on the actual situation at hand.

For example, your manager asks you when you are going to finish an important project, which you have had to put on the back burner because of other high priority tasks taking precedence. Your instincts may very well tell you to get upset and defend yourself. After all, that same manager gave you all that work and was panicking just yesterday about something else. But that may not be your best move.


A response is more considered and different from a reaction in that it actually offers a possible solution to a problem or criticism that has been presented, rather than a defense. Instead of answering with why a situation is occurring, it answers how it can be remedied or solicits a request for more information so a solution can be found.

As much as we would like to react first and respond later, taking the time to respond is always worthy. Responding gives you a chance to re-evaluate a situation, perhaps break an urgent project down into more manageable pieces or set priorities more successfully. It also makes a better impression on managers and colleagues, as well as clients.

We can’t expect that every day we will be good at stopping and responding to situations. But the old rules are good rules here. Take a deep breath—or three. Count to ten. Ask to visit your manager’s office in a few minutes so you can give him a proper update. You have many more options than fight or flight.

Wendy Stackhouse, for Artisan Creative