Oftentimes it seems that the world urges us all to be proactive types.  We’re called on to self-motivate, initiate and get-started.  Yet, not all of us are natural initiates, some of us are wired as more reactionary people.  So, quite naturally, we might go about frustrating each other (“Hurry up, let’s go!”, “Hang on, I’m still thinking”) Now, if we can learn to speak each other’s language, as Shelle Rose Charvet points out in Words that Change Minds: Mastering the Language of Influence, we can beneficially influence each other, each other’s responses and behaviors.

Let’s look at the two patterns;


Proactive people initiate.  They tend to act with little or no consideration, to jump into situations without thinking or analyzing.  They may upset some people because they can bulldoze ahead with what they want to do.  They are good at going out and getting the job done.  They do not wait for others to initiate.


Reactive people wait for others to initiate or wait until the situation is right before they act.  They may consider and analyze without acting.  They want to fully understand and assess the situation before they will act.  They believe in chance and luck.  They will spend a lot of time waiting.  Some people may get upset with them because they do not get started.  They will wait for others to initiate and then respond.  In the extreme, they operate with extra caution and study situations endlessly.  They make good analysts.

About 60—65% of the population are considered equally proactive and reactive.  There are those who lean to the ends of the continuum, as they are likely to demonstrate.

Pattern Recognition

Proactive people—sentence structure

  • short sentences: noun, active verb, tangible object
  • speaks as if they are in control of the world
  • crisp and clear sentence structure
  • direct
  • at the extreme, they bulldoze

Proactive body language-

  • Signs of impatience, speaking quickly, pencil tapping, lots of movement or inability to sit still for long periods

Reactive—sentence structure

  • incomplete sentences, subject or verb missing
  • passive verbs or verbs transformed into nouns
  • lots of infinitives
  • speak as it the world controls them, things happen to them, believe in chance or luck
  • long and convoluted sentences
  • talks about thinking about, analyzing, understanding, or waiting, or the principal of the thing
  • conditional, would, could, might, may
  • overly cautious, need to understand and analyze

Reactive—Body language

  • willingness to sit for long periods

How does it sound?

Practive: “I meet my team every  week”

Equally Proactive & Reactive: “I meet with my team to go over the current files. It is important to stay informed”

Reactive:  “Even though everybody might wonder if it is really necessary to meet each week,  it is important to consider the needs people have of              being listened to”

Influencing Language

Use these words and phrases to get people to jump into action.  If you think about it, matching someone’s way of being is very important when communicating.

To Proactive’s you can say:

Go for it!  Just do it!  Jump in!  Why wait?  Now; right away; get it done; you’ll get to it; take the initiative; take charge; run away with it; right now; what are you waiting for; lets hurry

To Reactive’s you can say:

Let’s think about it; now that you’ve analysed it; you’ll get to really understand; this will tell you why; consider this; this will clarify it for you; think about your response; you might consider; could; the time is ripe; luck is coming your way


ImageMichelle Clarke is an ICF Credentialed Executive Coach based in Cape Town. She works locally and internationally with Leaders, Executives and Executive Coaches, helping them to navigate the complexity of 21st century leadership.  To learn more about her work please visit her website www.motivcoach.com, and be sure also to subscribe to this blog for future updates.  If you enjoy Facebook, please join Michelle’s Business Page

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