How many times do you find yourself being sucked into an emotional tornado only to come out on the other end feeling battered and torn? Perhaps that sounds overly dramatic. So instead answer this: do you find yourself ever thinking “Why did I just say that?” while at the same time wondering “What the heck just happened?!?!”

This is because you weren’t response-able.

As human beings who are highly social animals, we are constantly picking up on the emotions, energy, actions and words of those surrounding us.

Think of how most of your daily interactions go. Let’s say you are walking down the hall at work and you approach a coworker. They greet you with a “Good morning, how was your weekend?”

It doesn’t take you five minutes to decipher the words, contemplate their intent behind those words, construct your answer and reply. Since the time we were born, we have constantly worked on picking up social cues about appropriate responses. This serves us well in the conversation I just explained.

Choose your responses wisely.

However, some of our responses become so learned and ingrained that we don’t always think before we speak. In an emotionally charged or tense situation, automatic responses don’t always serve us well. Let’s say you have been married for a few years and your spouse seems to know how to push your buttons. Can you imagine the following scenario?

“What’s for dinner tonight honey?”

“Why am I always in charge of dinner?”

“I didn’t say you were, I just asked what you had in mind, that’s all.”

“That is not what you said and you know it.”

Within the span of a two-minute conversation, things can go to hell in a hand basket as the conversation becomes emotionally charged – over dinner no less! Harriet Lerner describes this as an ineffective fight cycle in her book The Dance of Anger.

This isn’t the only place where we react without thinking. In fact, it happens countless times throughout the day: your co-worker asks you to drop everything and pick up one more quick task (sure – would love to help out), you are in a tense meeting and all the sudden tapped on to produce results you weren’t aware they needed (either you babble, make stuff up or get defensive), your assistant pops in your office to offer unsolicited advice about a project you have to report on in five minutes and you are scrambling to pull together (you bite his head off and he runs from the room); all of these scenarios present the need for a quick response.

The problem with quick responses is that if you haven’t done the thought work ahead of time as to how you will act in the moment, many times your actions can go against everything you stand for and are trying to accomplish.

You need to learn that there is a gap that you can access to help you become response-able.

Between stimulus and response there is a space.

In that space is the power to choose our response.

In that response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl – psychiatrist, holocaust survivor

Learning how to become response-able is a true human superpower. It allows you to act with integrity, to walk your talk, so to speak. And more than that, it gives you the power to show up they way you want to in the world, in your way on your terms. Start practicing it today to see how much more powerful you start to feel.

This is the first in a five-part series about leading your life, and your team, with intention. To check out more like this, get my new book Conquering Busyness that contains a link to a FREE workbook about learning how to be an effective leader.