Skip to main content
Conditioned Responses

This article talks about a concept called the "conditioned Response" in personal, professional, and romantic relationships.


The famous quote credited to Albert Einstein about the definition of insanity is a good one.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” 

This principle certainly applies to human relationships and personal communication, as much as it does to most situations in life.

When you use a particular communication technique with another person and you continue to receive an unwanted negative response (from that person), it is because you are getting a reply from the other person's past experience, rather than from his/her conscious mind.  This means that rather than receiving an intelligent and articulate reply from the other person, you are getting primitive emotional feedback from his/her subconscious mind (the basic operating system).  A conditioned response is an instinctual "reaction" from a person's subconscious mind to an outside experience.

When you are in an intimate or personal relationship, where you regularly communicate with a person, over time, you may be able to identify specific repetitive patterns of behaviour from the other person. 

For example, if you routinely use assertiveness with a person in order to correct his or her behaviour toward you, this person might respond with verbal retaliation.  What you are actually receiving from the person is something called a “conditioned response’.  Your communication technique has “conditioned” the other person to respond to you in this manner.  The other person will always respond to you this way (in most instances).  This kind of relationship can actually develop into a dysfunctional dynamic.

“Conditioning” is a term known to martial artists.  Martial artists “condition” their bodies to elevate their tolerance to pain (their pain threshold level) by intentionally exposing themselves to physical pain over many years.  The benefit of this practice goes along with the old adage “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”.

Another example of a conditioned response is when someone throws their fist at your face. 

First of all, when a person tries to hit you, they are usually trying to send you a strong message.  If you get hit by their fist, the message you might receive is one of “pain”.  The next time someone tries to you hit you, your conditioned “body” response will probably be to duck to avoid getting hit.  Chances are, you will duck every time someone tries to hit you to avoid re-experiencing the delivery of this painful message.

The only way to change the way to a person’s conditioned response (towards you), is to change your communication technique.  

The best way to do this is to understand the other person’s “language”.  You can determine how a person communicates on an intuitive level.  Most communication is unspoken or nonverbal communication.  Spoken words usually carry an underlying emotional meaning for people. 

In order to understand a person’s “language”, you need to know what motivates that individual.  You need to learn their operating system (their subconscious thoughts).  This means you must use an observational approach in your relationships, rather than being reactionary to “negative behaviour”. 

A contemplative person learns to understand Human behaviour.  A person who can disengage and detach from controversies and emotional situations, understands that humans operate act on thoughts that reside at a deeper level. 

This is a very useful practice when it comes to dealing with “difficult” people.  It helps us understand “why” a person might be oppositional.  This knowledge gives us the ability to overcome their resistance and build a better relationship, one based on trust and mutual respect.  A thoughtful and empathic person is able to gain the cooperation of people by building a rapport with them.

Understanding the conditioned response principle is excellent for team building and improving the group dynamics of members of an organization.

By Det David Love