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Knee jerk reaction – Meaning, disadvantages and how to avoid

Updated on August 4, 2012
Knee jerk reactions often lead to regret
Knee jerk reactions often lead to regret

This post discusses the meaning of knee jerk reaction, not the medical term but the behavioral idiom used in English language in our daily lives. Also pointed out, are the disadvantages of a knee jerk reaction and how to avoid knee jerk reactions.

What is a knee jerk reaction?

A knee jerk reaction is someones immediate response based on personal emotions and feelings, to a particular situation or event. The term, knee jerk reaction is derived from the term Patellar reflex wherein a doctor uses a tendon hammer to sharply strike a sensitive spot on the knee.

Contrary to its medical counterpart, a knee jerk reaction in everyday life is not based on any logic, analytics or thinking and is purely an automatic or impulsive response that a person has, based on his/her emotional stability.

Disadvantages of knee jerk reactions

The disadvantages of a knee jerk reaction don't really seem apparent until after the reaction has happened. Whether you are with your colleagues at the workplace, your family at home or with your friends at a cafe, a knee jerk reaction can be harmful and damaging to your personality. Here are reasons why you should not have knee jerk reactions in your daily lives.

1) Knee jerk reactions damage your decision making capacity

All decisions at work or in personal life deserve a logical and objective insight for the benefit of everyone involved. However, because of the fact that knee jerk reactions are based on emotions rather than logic, it is obvious that they will damage your capacity and ability to take the right decision at the right time. This is one of the reasons why managers and bosses at work always refrain from making knee jerk reactions.

2) Knee jerk reactions make you look intellectually weak

People who are intellectually strong and witty usually know how to handle a tricky situation by using their ability to think fast and effectively. The very minute that someone points a finger at you and your poor response to a particular situation, your intellectual capacity takes a massive beating. The very thought of 'think before you speak' is disregarded when you have a knee jerk reaction.

3) Knee jerk reactions can lead to fights

Whether it is a verbal onslaught or otherwise, knee jerk reactions often lead to fights and arguments. Even petty arguments can be instantly fired up into a big storm because of a reaction that was uncalled for.

4) Knee jerk reactions can damage your relationships

Your relationships with colleagues at work, friends in life and partner is life are too precious and important to be blown away by an unwanted knee jerk reaction, don't you think? Fall outs in many relationships are caused by the fact that people did not think before they spoke or took the wrong decision in the spur of the moment. This is a big blow because you will virtually waste the years of love and hard work that you've put in to nurture your relationships with the people around you.

5) Knee jerk reactions cause regret

The thoughts of "I wish I didn't do that" or "Oh I wish I had not said that" can stem from the fact that you had a knee jerk reaction to a situation. When you do or say something that may be the cause of a heated situation, there are bound to be regrets. So if you want to stop worrying about your past, get into the habit of not making hasty decisions.

This is one of the reasons why politicians are masters at not making knee jerk reactions. But then again, they have a habit of vehemently denying what they said in the first place, don't they? While that is a separate issue, what you need to know is that knee jerk reactions may cause regret and frustration later on in life.

How to avoid knee jerk reactions

Although there is no pill that you can pop to simply put an immediate end to all the knee jerk reactions in your life, there are steps you can take to avoid making knee jerk reactions. These steps are all about conditioning and training your brain and other sensory aspects to think before you react. So go ahead, ask these questions to yourself every time you have a situation on hand and train your brain to stop making knee jerk reactions.

1) Is this battle really worth fighting for?

Before you engage yourself in any argument, whether at work or at home, you must consider if the battle you are about to fall into is worth fighting for, or not. Because if it isn't, you will simply walk away and eliminate the chances of you making a knee jerk reaction.

2) What are the possible short term and long term repercussions?

The whole idea of avoiding knee jerk reactions is because you want to avoid dealing with negative repercussions of any action you've taken or things you've said. The minute you start thinking of the repercussion before reacting to a situation, you will automatically start taking decisions that are based on logic rather than emotions.

3) Does this sound right?

Most knee jerk reactions don't sound right in the first place. Asking yourself this question is all about being judgmental about the vibe and feel of the reaction you are about to make. This quick critical review will help you to avoid saying or doing the unnecessary when you react. Remember, if it doesn't sound right, it probably isn't.

4) How is this going to benefit me?

Most of our reactions to any situation, whether they are verbal or otherwise, are done for our own emotional, physical or monetary benefit. One of the most helpful tips to avoid making knee jerk reactions is to think of the benefits you may derive from your reaction. No, this is not about being selfish, it is about being practical and it applies more to decisions that need to be taken in a workplace environment.

5) Introspect: Did I take the right decision?

A post-decision analysis is the key to learning from your mistakes and for the betterment of your ability to react to a particular situation. In the heat of the moment, you may have lost your cool and said or done something in haste. A quick objective, logical and intellectual analysis of what was said and done will help you learn from your mistake of making knee jerk reactions and avoiding them in the future.


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    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      You are right, Husky. Experience and hindsight are the greatest teachers when it comes to learning how to avoid knee jerk reactions. This advice on refraining from such impulsive reactions is a top up. It is a list of things that we all can keep in mind before we let emotions take control. Thanks for calling this a gem.


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Hi embee77

      It's great that you write about ADD to educate everyone about the behavioral aspects of ADD. I will definitely read up on your hubs. I'm glad you liked this advice and thanks for reading.


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago


      Being at either end of a knee jerk reaction can be painful. But being the receiver, you can take satisfaction in the fact that you came out as the bigger person. Well done!


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago


      I'm glad you did not let that snap decision get the better of you. Thanks for stopping by!


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Hi Gypsy Willow

      Yep, rushing into doing things can really backfire and hurt you down the line. Knee jerk reactions and subsequent bad decisions are really not worth it. Thanks for reading and commenting!


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Another princesswithapen gem! Individuals who read your hubs benefit greatly from your sage advice. Thinking before you speak or act is a tremendously valuable skill that prevents the many problems caused by those dreaded knee jerk reactions. One learns from experience and your suggestions aid in the learning process. Voted up and very useful.

    • embee77 profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice thoughts, PWP! I love your advice on how to avoid them. Must say I have a history, as a person with an attention disorder. We call it "impulsivity." Nice, hu? And it's a constant issue, whether we're interrupting someone with a positive or negative idea - it just comes out. I continue to work on it. Glad to know others feel the same way. Thank you for sharing - check out my hubs on ADHD if you wish.

    • tom hellert profile image

      tom hellert 

      8 years ago from home


      i saw the Title and said - "oh this is going to be useless n stupid I might as well not read it".... *tee-hee* -hows that for a snap decision- all kidding aside well done- good points..


    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      8 years ago

      I've had my own share of these as well as being on the receiving end.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      8 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      We should assess the situation before we rush into things. Thanks for the reminder!


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