For Every Action, There WILL be a Reaction

In this adaptation of Newton’s third law, we acknowledge that in our work life (and likely elsewhere as well), whatever we do or don’t do will result in a reaction. What kind of reaction? Consider these situations:

  • We raise our prices and our competitor advertises that they have lower prices
  • We compliment a co-worker and they try all the harder to please us
  • We fail to follow-through on a commitment and the next time a prize assignment is delegated it goes to someone else
  • We come to work in a bad mood, not wanting to be there, and we have a bad day.

This concept seems obvious, but the human tendency is to focus on just the opposite:

  • “That darned competitor is beating us up on pricing again. Why are they doing that to us?”
  • “She sure is doing a good job, but if I say anything about it to her she’ll just get a big head.”
  • “Why is it that everyone else always gets all the good assignments? Its not fair!”
  • “I had a terrible day. This job sucks! I think I’ll look elsewhere.”

While we are never in complete control of our surroundings, we have far more impact on our condition than some people care to realize. They become victims. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: they do not have control over their circumstances because they have released that control to others. They have failed to take hold of those elements that they do have control over. Conversely, we gain control over our circumstances as we take responsibility for those circumstances. Put another way, we have more control of the reaction if we acknowledge that it is impacted by our action (or lack thereof).

It is important to recognize that the truth of this adage only increases with the stature of our positions. The higher we are on the organizational chart the more impact even minor actions will have. If the boss walks in the door with a scowl instead of a smile, the whole place reacts. If the janitor is in a bad mood, few may notice. Similarly, if the receptionist compliments a middle manager for a job well done, it is appreciated but perhaps quickly forgotten. If the president of the firm makes the same comment to the same individual, it has an incredibly positive and long-lasting impact.

Some specific tools to help you apply this concept include:


  • Develop the habit of subconsciously asking yourself what the reaction might be when you make a decision or make a comment.
  • In planning a meeting or preparing to make a decision, decide what kind of a reaction you want, then make plans in support of that reaction.


  • If you are in an influential or high profile position (which will include most people who receive this newsletter), recognize that even the smallest of comments or actions can have a profound impact on those around you. Seemingly innocuous factors such as how long you take for lunch, or your body language during a meeting need to be considered.
  • Acknowledge that some actions that cause negative reactions are simply necessary and unavoidable. When possible, take additional action to help mitigate the negative reaction. This could be as simple as communicating to the affected individuals why the action was necessary.
  • Take responsibility for the reactions to your actions. Take ownership. Know that the reactions of others are influenced heavily by what you say and do.


  • Ask for both proactive and reactive feedback. If you have a tough decision to make that will impact others, ask for input before making the decision. Periodically ask a trusted associate to share with you how you come across to others and how you can improve.


  • Recognize that in-action causes a reaction just as action causes a reaction. We should never close our eyes and hope that a situation will become better on its own. Make it a decision, not a consequence.
  • Use this influence to move your organization forward, to help others, not to manipulate or for selfish purposes.


Thoughts and ideas such as those I share in these newsletters are often helpful in dealing with our challenges, both on the job and at home. Sometimes the concepts are simple, but applying them more difficult. Ascent is here to help you achieve success, however you choose to define it. Through mentoring, coaching, consulting, presentations and training, Ascent is here to help you move upward.