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Reflective vs. Reactive Thinking

 

Explanations > Preferences > Reflective vs. Reactive Thinking

Reflective | Reactive | So what?

 

The speed and depth of thought is often seen in two styles that individual people prefer. This may also be seen in the social aspects of how they work. Most people use both of these in different situations, for example being reactive when stressed and reflective when sad. People also tend to have a preferred style which they use in everyday situations.

 

Factor Reactive thinking Reflective thinking
Depth Low High
Speed Fast Slow
Sociability Social Alone
Accuracy Good enough High
Openness Low High
Argument Win-lose debate Win-win negotiation
Timescale Short-term Long-term
Arousal High Low

 

Reflective

A reflective thinker takes a subject and thinks slowly about it. They muse and develop ideas, often gradually and iteratively, typically seeding the unconscious mind with some problem and waiting for our deeper systems to come back with a suggestion. As an internal activity, this is often work that is done alone, although conversations with others can be helpful in taking other views into account.

Reflective thinking seeks the best solution over something that is simply 'good enough'. They may pick at their solution or even throw it away and start again if they are not yet happy with a final answer.

Reflection is not an indication of intelligence. Some people are just slower. Others think deeply, and need the time to get to the depth of their considerations.

A person who thinks reflectively is often open to suggestion as they seek the best answer. Even when they have drawn their conclusion, they may well be open to challenges.

Reactive

A reactive thinker takes a question and rapidly seeks an answer. They leap to decisions quickly, which can be very useful, although their answers are not always the best. In fact one of the dangers of reactive thinking is that the person may assume that their answer is the only answer as they do not take time to consider other options. 

Reactive people work well in conversations and negotiations, where their speed can itself be an advantage. If you can quickly demolish an opposing argument, then whatever you have may well be accept as a usable answer.

Smart people may be reactive when their speed of thought compensates for the limited time they have to think. Knowing they are smart, they may also be over-confident in their conclusions.

Once they have made up their mind, reactive people are less likely to be open to returning to the subject as they quickly move on to something else.

So what?

Reflective and reactive roles can be seen in all kinds of profession. For example a reflective translator takes the written word in one language and carefully and painstakingly works on translating this into another language, often working alone. They think carefully about each word, sentence and paragraph, seeking to best represent both individual and overall meaning in the new language. On the other hand, an interpreter is a far more reactive and social role, working in real-time with other people, converting between languages as someone else speaks.

When you are changing the mind of a reflector, give them time to think. Be prepared to come back to them time and again. You may be able to facilitate their though process, feeding them data at appropriate times and challenging their conclusions. In this way, reflectors can be good people to persuade, although they also might change their minds again after you think you have persuaded them.

To change the mind of a reactive person, you need to influence them quickly and up-front, using clear and compelling information. Once they have made up their mind, it may well be difficult to return to the subject with them.

See also

Maximizing vs. Satisficing

 

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