March 2, 2012
by Hatch


I was approached recently by a friend asking for advice about how to deal with a particularly passive-aggressive customer who was hoping my friend would reduce her consulting rate after the fact – but only “…if she felt her work wasn’t worth the original estimate.” My friend was understandably upset and confused. Did this mean the customer felt the work she delivered was inferior, or over-priced, or was he simply fishing for a deal. In the end, she chose not to take responsibility for his passive aggressive inquiry and simply stood firm on her invoice.

Her dilemma reminded me of something I learned in one of my first marriage counseling sessions more than 20 years ago — namely, there is a difference between being “responsible for” someone and being “responsive to” someone. Full disclosure here; my default mode is generally to be a good co-dependent which means my natural state is heavy on jumping in and light on stepping back. But this particular therapist gave me a pocket card that I still have to this day that listed all the ways being “responsive” was different (& better) than being “responsible.”

  • When I feel responsible for others…I fix, protect, rescue, control, carry their feelings and generally don’t listen.
  • When I am responsive to others…I listen, show empathy, encourage, confront, share and am sensitive.
  • When being responsible I feel…tired, anxious, fearful, and liable.
  • When being responsive I feel…relaxed, free, and self-aware.
  • When being responsible I care about…circumstances, solutions, answers, and being right.
  • When being responsive I care about…feelings, relating one to one, and the (other) person making it on her own.
  • When being responsible I expect…the (other) person to live up to my expectations.
  • When being responsive I expect…the (other) person to be responsible for themselves.
  • When being responsible I am…a manipulator
  • When being responsive I am…a helpful guide.

Relationships, whether professional or personal, are at the heart of all we do. Next time you find yourself in crisis or conflict with someone, step back, and ask yourself “Am I being responsive to this person or responsible for them.” If you pause to practice responsiveness, I promise it will not only lead to better personal well-being, its likely to lead to a better outcome as well.

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