Useful Metaprograms In Business: Proactive/Reactive

(also known as ‘Action Filter’ or ‘Motivation Level’)

Do you take the initiative and leap into action, or do you prefer to analyse and wait for others?

‘Proactive’ people are self-starters, and do not wait for others before they act. They are focused on achieving results and may upset others in their willingness to get there.

‘Reactive’ people won’t act until they have analysed the situation, or until other people prod them into action. Other people may get frustrated with their apparent inactivity.

Identifying the Proactive/Reactive pattern

This pattern will appear in language structure and body language.


Language: Short, direct sentences, often with a ‘command’ tonality on statements or even questions. Active verbs. Active verbs and verb patterns indicating an ‘at cause’ mentality. Expects to be listened to. A need to act.

Body language: Generally fast. Fidgety, pencil-tapping, won’t sit still for long periods (you will definitely notice this if you have a strongly ‘Proactive’ person in a meeting or training course).


Language: Passive verbs, nominalisations, long sentences that tail off, verb patterns indicating an ‘at effect’ mentality (things happen to them, others ‘make’ them do things, lots of model operators of necessity). Conditional words like ‘might’, ‘could’, ‘would’. Can have ‘question’ tonality on statements. A need to understand.

Body language: Able to sit still for long periods. May seek lots of eye contact – as if looking to others for approval or checking that they are being listened to.

Job role examples

A Proactive pattern is useful for: sales people (outgoing sales), business owners, leaders

Proactive people need to be given things to do, otherwise they become bored. If you are recruiting for a role needing a Proactive pattern, you can screen out ‘reactives’ by requiring applicants to phone.

Don’t hire high Proactive people for jobs requiring diplomacy, or where consequences need thinking through.

A Reactive pattern is useful for: support desk, customer service, research and analysis, jobs which include long periods of waiting around.

Reactive people need time to get their heads round a decision, or to check how others feel about it. Don’t hire them for roles requiring snap decisions.

Most job roles require a mixture of Proactive and Reactive.

Influencing and managing

Proactive: use words about getting stuff done. ‘Just’ (as in ‘just do it’), make it happen, let’s get on with it, jump in, you’ll smash it. Or Richard Branson’s motto: “Screw it, let’s do it.” Pace their belief that they make things happen.

If you need to restrain them from jumping straight in, you can say “Just before we….” – the ‘just’ indicates that the delay will only be very short.

Give Proactive people ways to use their energy. If selling to them, give them a way of taking action or getting results straight away.

If you have a strongly proactive person on a course or in a meeting, make sure the activities or meeting segments are short. Even one Proactive person can disrupt things for others if they get bored and fidgety.

Reactive: use words about considering. As you consider, you could, we might, take as long as you need, circumstances are right, this is what you’ve been waiting for, everyone’s doing it.

Use Cialdini’s ‘Social Proof’ principle by giving examples of other people who have bought the product or are doing what you wanted them to do.

If you want them to act, use wording that implies that they have had a period in which to consider and analyse: now that you’ve had a chance to think about it, no need to wait any longer.

© 2019, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

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