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  • Writer's pictureMark Bragg (Braggy)

Step Back. Long Arms.

Respond; don’t react. Listen; don’t talk. Think; don’t assume.

Raji Lukkoor

Strange title, yes? Well, we’ll get to that at the end.

If I were to choose a starting point for the development of leaders, a platform on which everything else is built, it would be awareness. Developing a deep understanding of yourself, your environment and the people you interact with. It is only by developing a high level of awareness that you learn to respond, rather than react to the situations you face each day.

There is a critical difference between reaction and response and our ability to navigate that difference has a direct impact on how effective we are as leaders and team members, actually as we are as people.


Reactions are quick, automatic and thoughtless. Psychologists suggest it is related to our fight or flight instinct, a mechanism when we feel threatened. Reactions are normally attached to emotions, driven by our unconscious mind.

We can all relate to getting angry and retaliating in difficult, perhaps even confronting situations. These are clear and obvious reactions, but in our day to day lives we are prone to constantly reacting to more subtle circumstances. Things not going the way we had intended…an opinion that differs to ours…an unexpected situation…disappointment or our occasional need for attention, all cause us to react rather than respond.


Response on the other hand is conscious, thoughtful and considered. It takes into account the people, environment and circumstance. It even requires us to examine our own thoughts and motivations.

Responses are slower, calm and non-threatening. To respond rather than react you need to create space, separating your natural instinct to react, with time and a higher level of thought and then perhaps a response. Perhaps even no response. (Which is actually a response we could choose more often than we do.) 

Why this is important

Now a simple question. Which type of leader do you want to work for? What type of person do you want to work beside each day? The answer is obvious and the reason is simple…trust.

You can trust someone who responds rather than reacts. You know they are listening, understanding, considering and respecting everyone involved. They are thinking through all the options before they respond. More than anything this is a person who is centered and in control. It is not someone being controlled by the situation.

Step Back Long Arms

OK, this is NOT, repeat NOT, easy. We all get caught reacting. Making visceral, unconscious responses. It’s a battle each day but it’s something we all need to keep working on. 

What can help is a little reminder, a psychological trigger if you like. Step back, long arms, is something I use myself and with those I am privileged enough to coach. Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you are feeling tense, anxious or even slightly emotional. A scenario where you are likely to react, just think Step Back, Long Arms.

Step Back is code for creating space. Stepping away from the situation and considering it from a distancing, detaching yourself.  Allowing yourself time to think carefully, attempting to look at it from different perspectives.

Long Arms is designed to help you physically relax. We normally carry our tension in our shoulders, sometimes really hunching up when we are stressed. Long arms, just means letting your arms go long. Try it. You can’t help but release the tension in your shoulders and it will probably be accompanied by more relaxed breathing.

Now, you are in a better positon to respond.

Step Back…Long Arms

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