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When it’s Not Productive to Add a Log to a Fire

Jack Craven
August 23, 2018

I spend a lot of my time in sessions supporting leaders to think more clearly while making decisions that lead to better results, more purpose and happiness. It’s impossible for our brains to make great decisions when we’re in a triggered and reactive state. We can reduce our reactivity by following these guidelines:

First notice when you are reactive. 

Own that reactions are a choice. How we react to the situation IS the situation. 

I frequently see clients unconsciously increase their reactivity, thereby prolonging their inability to make sound decisions. 

How do they do this? They add “logs to the fire” of reactivity. 

Here’s a common example: 

Recently a client CEO (let’s call her Christa) was frustrated that her team was not hitting its goals for the year. She was angry and frustrated. She and her team had many meetings to strategize how to hit Q2 targets. She felt exasperated that her team wasn’t able to execute as promised. 

Rather than focus on their strategy, I asked her to first take ownership of her reaction. She didn’t understand the question. I pressed her a bit further. What do YOU do to inflame your reaction? She paused and then smiled for the first time. She said, “I complain and gossip about my team to other department heads. In fact, I think of ways to blame my team several times throughout the day.” I asked, “What happens when you complain and blame?” She answered, “I get even more upset and reactive.” 


When you are blaming and complaining, you are adding “fuel” to the fire of your reactivity. Yes, it’s important for your team to hit its goals. But each time you add a log/fuel to the fire you increase your suffering and aren’t helping the situation or getting the results you want. 

Pause and think of a situation with your team or in a relationship where there is tension or conflict. How do you fuel the fire of your reactivity? The second step to change is to reduce your reactivity, which is within your control. “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” Victor Frankl 

When Christa began to decrease the fuel to her reactivity around the team’s performance, she grew and freed herself from her suffering. Rather than continuing to add fuel to her reactivity by blaming and gossiping about her team, she began to think about different ways to approach and support them.When she next met with her team, her approach and mindset were more open. Together they came up with a new strategy. The early results are encouraging.

Think about the situation you called to mind above. Are you willing to open your mind—and your heart—to stop adding fuel to the fire, and to come up with a creative—and collaborative—solution instead?

Jack Craven
Jack Craven is an executive coach to business leaders, and the teams and companies they lead.

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