The way we respond to positive news is more important to our relationships than the way we respond to the negative stuff. Whether it’s with our intimate partners, friends, co-workers or family members, being proactive, positive and curious about good news is essential to having strong relationships.
So if your partner comes home, a good friend stops by or a colleague comes to your office to share a positive event with you, engage with them, celebrate and ask interested questions. This is the good stuff of life!!! Notice it, slow down for it, and celebrate it. Not only will you help build that relationship, but you’ll get a nice kick of those infectious positive emotions.
The impact of celebrating positive news is true when we share big events like a promotion, winning a prize or finally losing that last 10 pounds. It’s also true when we share the little positive things like having a good day, receiving a gift or completing a project or task. Whatever it is, find a way to engage in that positive conversation.
Active Constructive Responding
Shelly Gable, a researcher at UC Santa Barbara, is the world expert on this stuff. Her research shows that when we engage with good news in a positive way, we build trust, intimacy, commitment and satisfaction within that relationship. She calls it ‘active constructive’ responding, which is characterized by active listening, asking interested questions and sharing in the positive emotions that come up. It’s about celebrating that good news together. And it’s an amazing way to create positivity resonance (see my last post here.)
Other ways of responding
It’s no surprise that two other ways of responding produce the opposite effects. ‘Active destructive’ responding is characterized by bringing up potential problems, like “This promotion will probably lead to more stress and longer work hours”. Or ‘passive destructive’ responding is characterized by ignoring the speaker or having the listener immediately starting in on a story about themselves. No surprise that these ways of responding reduce intimacy and trust.
What I found most interesting from the research is that a ‘passive constructive’ response — giving a simple acknowledgement of the positive event, “good job” or “that’s cool” with a slow response or without much energy hurts relationships strength just like the destructive modes. This is true even when the sharer, “knew that their partner loved them.”
So to maintain and build up our relationships, look for more ways to engage and celebrate good news.
How to do it
This isn’t rocket science. We inherently understand that being supportive about positive news is important. Yet for me, many opportunities to connect over these small things get lost when I’m thinking about my own projects or troubles. And I’ve been known to co-opt someone else’s celebration by immediately sharing something good that happened to me. All of these things take away from the benefits you can tap into by engaging in their positive shares. Here are a few things to think about in our busy, busy, busy lives…
Do it your way. It’s important to be authentic. If you are not typically an effusive person, don’t suddenly jump up and down and whoop and holler. Find your own ways of showing interest and celebrating — simply spending a minute or two in supportive conversation about the topic with a smile is all it really takes.
Slow down – Often times the reason we don’t respond in an active constructive way is because we are so caught up in our own thoughts or are trying to get just one more thing done. So the news that is brought just doesn’t register as important or relevant to us. When you are approached, work on getting into the habit of putting those things on a short pause, if just for a minute, and give your whole attention to this friend, child or partner. It’s worth it.
Put down those electronics – We’ve all felt the pangs of sadness when see videos like this, yet we are all guilty of doing this exact thing sometimes. Stop trying to do two things at once. That text/Facebook post will wait. The ephemeral happiness when a friend or partner is excited to share something with you won’t. We all know what it’s like to be standing there — live and in the flesh — playing second fiddle to a virtual connection. It sucks. And when we are excited to share something, it really sucks. Doing one thing at a time is SO much better for our relationships.
Schedule it. If you are truly in the middle of something and can’t take the time to listen, it’s ok to put off the conversation. A quick, “I really want to hear this story, but need to finish this thought/email/project right now. I’ll come find you in 5/10/30 minutes.” Then make sure you do.
I’m guilty of putting off celebrations too often with my kids. I get caught up in my to-do list and my stresses that I meet any interruption with a “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something…?” (i.e. a passive destructive response.) It’s hard for me to switch gears sometimes, especially as my son is at the stage where he monologues ALL THE TIME, so it’s easy to ignore his constant buzz. Yet in those times that I do take a break and look at him and engage in his stories, I feel how much that means to him, I feel the connection strengthening. Of course I want to be that kind of dad.
Your Task: Find two times each day this week and practice stopping and listening to good news. Engage with eye contact, be enthusiastic (whatever that means to you), ask questions and see how much stronger those connections become. The research is very clear all you need to do is slow down and listen.
Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach
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