Ok, so we all want good, strong relationships in our life-with our spouse, children, family members, friends, or colleagues. We want to give off, and feel, that sense of trust, warmth, caring, kinship, fun and happiness within all these connects. But somehow, we are finding it difficult to make that happen. Are we doing some things that are playing spoilsport? Is there a simple way to correct that? Yes, there is. It is Active Constructive Responding!
Positive Psychology has found that practicing and adopting a specific method of communication called ‘Active Constructive Responding’, (also called Active Constructive Response or ACR), we can succeed in our goals of making our family and public bonds stronger, fulfilling and enriching. So, let’s dive into the topic and get to know what exactly this particular entity is.
Why is our way of responding to people’s ‘Good News’ so important?
How people respond to someone’s personal loss or sadness has always been considered an important test of relationships, but psychologists have discovered that the way in which people respond to someone else’s sharing of good news or happiness plays perhaps an even more important role in strengthening (or weakening) relationships.
What are the four characteristic types of responses to ‘good news’?
Psychologist Shelly Gable’s research found that when any good news of happy experiences (like a new achievement such as a promotion or a prize or a new acquisition) is shared by someone, people typically respond in four characteristic ways. These responses go a long way to pass certain feelings between the sharer and the receiver, and they speak volumes about the strength and the quality of underlying relationship.
Her research paper was based on experiences between romantic or married couples, but the results can be applied to practically all inter-personal relationships.
Psychologically, a good news announcement is likely to receive one of the following four responses.
- Passive constructive response
- Passive destructive response
- Active destructive response
- Active constructive response
What is Passive Constructive Response?
This is perhaps the most common response to good news, where the receiver cursorily congratulates, showing little joy or enthusiasm through words or gestures. There is hardly any interest to know more details. Though such a response may pass social muster, it falls way short in establishing stronger connects.
Passive Constructive Response- Example:
Angad comes home bubbling with happiness. Enthusiastically he shares with his father- “Hey Dad, do you know what? I just won the first prize in the elocution competition today. See, this is the medal!”
The dad, busy working, barely lifts his head from his computer, offers a weak smile and says, ‘Well done, son.”
Angad looks expectantly at his father to continue conversation, but his dad is back to work. Slowly walking away, Angad slips into his room, shuts the door, and forlornly keeps his medal on his table.
What is Passive Destructive Response?
Here, the receiver receives the good news without joy or enthusiasm; shows no interest in knowing the details and offers unconcerned, unenthusiastic, or contrary words or gestures that are side-tracking or trivializing the topic.
Passive Destructive Response- Example:
Saina says to her best friend Sheela, “I have received a scholarship to go to the best college in the US.” Sheela raises her eyebrows and says with a smirk, “Hope it is all right. You know, my cousin Jayesh had similarly gone to US on a scholarship, but he did not get any job, and is now returning. Be careful!”
Saina retreats with a hurt look on her face.
What is Active Destructive Response?
Here, the receiver is purposely mean, hurtful, and toxic to the sharer of the good news. The responding words and gestures are hostile, negative, and critical.
Active Destructive Response-Example:
John happily tells his mother, “Mom, I am selected in my school’s athletics team. The school will be sending us to compete in the Inter-district competition. Isn’t it great?” The mother angrily frowns, glares and explodes, “What is so great in this small competition? Is it Olympics? Enough of your sports and games. Focus on your studies- not just running and jumping. We all know how your marks were at the last exams. No need to go anywhere!”
John is distraught and almost breaks down.
What is Active Constructive Responding/Response?
Active Constructive Response (ACR) is the ideal way of receiving good news. Here the receiver shows genuine joy and enthusiasm through appreciative, encouraging, exclamatory words (‘Wow’, ‘That’s great’, ‘Excellent’, ‘Lovely’, ‘Bravo’ etc.) and gestures (hug, smile, high five, pat on the back etc.). The receiver takes an active interest in knowing more details and asks further questions for the sharer to elaborate further.
Active Constructive Response- Example:
Ravi enthusiastically announces to his wife, “Hey, the email has arrived. I have been promoted to the position of Senior Manager.” The wife drops the work at hand, smilingly hugs her husband and exclaims, “Oh, my God! Don’t tell me it has finally happened. Well done! Wow, what news! I am booking a table at your favourite restaurant for dinner. Celebration time! So, how did it happen? Tell me everything!”
Ravi proudly and contentedly starts recounting the things that went on in the background, which finally landed him his coveted position! The wife listens intently.
How can we practice Active Constructive Responding?
To be an active constructive responder, we need to practice and imbibe few things.
- Analyze our present way of responding and adapt to the new way.
- We need to listen mindfully- without distractions.
- Not interrupt or side-track conversation.
- Maintain good eye contact with the sharer. Smiles, head nods, rapid eye blinks, leaning forward to listen and interested facial expression are some positive non-verbal signals, which tell the sharer that the listener is indeed invested in the topic.
- Be genuinely appreciative and happy for others.
- Let the other person know clearly that we are part of his/her happiness.
- The encouraging words and gestures should reflect enthusiasm and energy- not just sense of social duty or good manners.
- The person sharing the good news usually has a lot to say and wants to savor his/her happiness. We need to give that opportunity by asking the right questions and encouraging him/her to share everything about the happy moments in detail.
What are the benefits of Active Constructive Responding?
ACR has emotional benefits for the sharer, the receiver, and their relationship.
For the sharer:
Opportunity to savor and amplify the happiness.
For the receiver:
Increased positive emotions and sense of well-being.
Increased self-esteem and decreased loneliness.
For the relationship:
More trust, closeness, and liking.
More stability and intimacy.
More commitment and satisfaction.
- How we respond to people sharing the ‘good news’ of their happy experiences plays an important role in strengthening and weakening our relationships.
- Characteristically a good news from someone receives one of the four responses- Passive Constructive, Passive Destructive, Active Destructive and Active Constructive Response.
- Passive Constructive, Passive Destructive and Active Destructive Response styles weaken the relationships.
- Active Constructive responding/Response (ACR) is the warm, invested way of responding and offers many emotional benefits to sharer and receiver of the good news, and it strengthens and enriches their relationship.