Monday, May 7, 2012

Proactive or reactive?

As a long-time people watcher, I've come up with a way to definitively distinguish between people types. I've been down the Myers-Briggs road, the horoscope road, the gender divide, cultural differences, and more. While each system has it own merits, I find my division makes the most sense to me.

No matter when you're born, what culture you grow up in, what gender you are, it seems that deep within each of us is a kernel of reactivity. We're either proactive in our response patterns or reactive. And it's this difference that determines if people get along.

Have you ever been in a group, say at work, where the leader wants all these contingency plans laid out to the nth degree? Or have you experienced a disaster (computer crash, tornado, vehicle accident on the way to pick up your kids) and had to deal with a rapidly changing scenario?

In either case, the group immediately stratifies into folks who are slow to react and people who want to get ahead of the curve. There's a basic sociological principle that "Like seeks like" so we are naturally drawn to folks who think like us.

I've been caught short before and didn't like it. Matter of fact, the thought of a pop quiz or playing my guitar in front of people without sheet music is paralyzing. To perform at a consistently high level, I need to know what is coming next.

Therefore I like to plan - I fit into the proactive group.

I plan with daily to-do lists, with word count goals and logs, with a weekly chores list, and so on. If I know I'm going out of town, I get stories banked for my newspaper job.

This is fine until I'm in a group of reactive folks. They look at my proactive planning as unnecessary and a waste of time. The important stuff always gets done, somehow. And they seem to think there's no need to go looking for trouble. They are content with the status quo and when something happens, they go with the flow.

Do you agree with this division?

Which are you? Proactive? Reactive?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Maggie Toussaint
like me on FB: http://www.facebook.com/MaggieToussaintAuthor# 

22 comments:

  1. Hi Maggie,
    I enjoyed the topic. I'm pro-active. A huge planner like you, but admit my military career allows me when needed, to be reactive. Regardless of the challenges, I go in believing that I will overcome. The secret is to define the goal, then take steps forward to achieve it. Divide and conquer. :)
    Take care, and I wish you continued success!

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    1. Hi Diana,

      No wonder we are so compatible! Both big time planners. I like the approach that you go in believing you will prevail into every situation. That kind of kick a-- attitude is what's needed to prevail in this world.

      Thanks for the visit.

      Delete
  2. Maggie, I think I'm proactive because I'm a big planner. I feel behind the power curve if I have to react to something. Nice post. Good food for thought.

    Smiles
    Steph

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    1. Hi Steph, You are such a busy person, I think you have become super proactive. I appreciate your comment!

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  3. Maggie,
    You always give us a lot to think about. I think I'm a pro-active. I always have plans and to-do lists and I've learned to control myself and not blurt out the first response that comes to my mind when someone upsets me. My problem is to change my plans if I discover they are not the best anymore.

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    1. Hi Mona, So far we have a trend going here. Only the proactive folks are replying! I guess the reactive folks are taking a wait and see approach.

      I have more trouble blurting out stuff in a casual situation because the filter in my head goes offline. Conversational gaffes are one of the reason I started writing so intently. Less chance to commit foot in the mouth disease.

      For me, course corrections are hard as well. I realize the need to make course corrections and make them. But having time to make the correction is usually critical.

      Delete
  4. Maggie--definitely proactive. For years, my husband wanted us to "just go with flow", get in the car, drive until we found something to do or something we liked, find a motel, and stay there a while. Honestly, this sort of thing makes my stomach churn and hurt big time. But I did allow this two times, and both times we were frustrated and unhappy all the time. He was the one who complained the most about "not planning." I wanted to say, I told you so...but I didn't. He learned the lesson he actually knew all along. Why? He's the most proactive person on the planet. Why he thought he could this, I don't know.
    Oh, yes, I do...he expected me to do the planning...but those two times, I didn't
    My best friend in the world claims to be reactive, or rather acts and sounds like that in all things. But I've watched her over the years--she's actually very proactive...very!
    Interesting thoughts--I didn't have to stop and think about it though--it's emblazoned across my forehead.

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  5. Hey Celia,
    I'm intrigued by your traveling story. If we make a trip, we always seem to plan out our route in advance. One time we didn't. We had a long drive and started too late to do it all in one day. So we planned to stop when we couldn't go anymore. We were on a tight budget and stayed in a dive. We tried to go to sleep but every time we almost got to sleep, we'd hear something in the ceiling. After awhile, we realized it was rats. We hopped back in the car, wide-eyed. Now we're very proactive about checking out the ratings of places before we book a room.

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  6. I define reactive very differently than you do, Maggie. To me reactors are those who usually over-react to a situation. Reactors make knee-jerk decisions and allow their emotions to control them.

    I define the proactive people much more like you do--but they are only opposite to reactive people if they think out their reactions before they act--so in a way the proactive people seem to do less--but they are usual more effective. The reactive people fly into activity without thought.

    I don't think people neatly fit into those categories. Most often, young people react without thinking first. We older folk have been there, done that and think before we speak, make sure we understand the situation and try to be part of the solution rather than making more problems with our reactions.

    Have I muddied the waters thoroughly?

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    1. Hi EB,
      I am intrigued by your answer. I haven't considered age-related changes. Truthfully, I get so frustrated with reactive folks when we are supposedly on the same team. I find I prefer to do things by myself - that way it gets done in time. Maggie

      Delete
  7. Hi Maggie
    I'm por-active, my husband is reactive. He plans for all eventualities. I deal with crises. Some of my more seditious friends have claimed that I deliberately create crises in order to manage them!

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    1. Hi Jenny,

      If your husband is the planner, he's the proactive one. If you react to crises, then you're reactive - you do something based on the circumstance. That doesn't mean you don't do a good job with your solution. Thank you for stopping by! Maggie

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  8. I'm a list keeper, policies maker, and a plotter, which makes me pro-active. But over the years, I became more flexible...I guess working for problem-spotter type of bosses forced me to be the problem-solver, which makes me reactive.
    Then again, being able to change roles is a form of contingency planning, a proactive approach. Isn't it?

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    1. Su,

      You have given me hope that I can be more flexible about contingency planning. I'm glad to hear you recognize the same categories of people!

      Maggie

      Delete
  9. I notice most people declare themselves pro-active. I'm a mix of both.
    I plan and think, but I want to travel and yet don't.

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    1. Hi Jacqueline,

      I've never met anyone who is a mix, so I'm sure it would be great fun to sit down and chat with you. I hope we attend the same conference sometime!

      Maggie

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  10. I am pro-active and make to-do lists every day, even on holidays. I also find it frustrating when I'm with a group of reactive people who like to fly by the seat of their pants.

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    1. Hi Joanne,

      ((Maggie does the secret handshake)) Welcome to the club, sister!

      Delete
  11. While reading your post, I could immediately see my protagonist as proactive and her sister and side-kick as reactive. For myself, I think I'm a mixture, meaning I make lists but often ignore them. As a result, life is somewhat chaotic but at least I worry about it!

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    1. Hi Cindy,

      I haven't thought about this connection with writing, but I should have. I had one book that didn't sell with a reactive heroine. But my published books contain proactive heroines. I guess my heroines don't fall very far from the tree...

      Like Jacqueline, you identify yourself as a mixture. I applaud you both for making it work.

      Maggie

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  12. Maggie, this was a fun post. I'm probably more proactive than reactive, and I believe in contingency plans, but lots of times my contingency plan is "be flexible." I like to think I can follow as well as lead. Groups need both kinds of people. Most of the time, I pick whichever approach will work best for the situation (which probably means I'm proactive at heart - ha!)

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  13. Hi Jill,

    Thanks for swinging by Mudpies! I like your strategy of going with the flow, but being proactive about it. Flexibility is so often needed when it comes to planning. I can be flexible, as long as I have enough time to adjust to the new paradigm...

    Maggie

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