How do you respond when someone tells you their good news?
In his book Flourish, Martin Seligman describes four ways of responding, and suggests that only one of those ways is helpful for relationship building. Let’s look at an example.
Little Amanda gets home from school and exclaims, “Mommy, mommy, I got an A!”
Mommy responds, “Amanda, that’s wonderful! Doesn’t that feel great? How did you do it? What did the teacher say? Let’s do something to celebrate!”
Or, Mommy responds, “Oh. That’s good.”
Or, Mommy responds, “It’s about time. Now why aren’t you getting A’s in the rest of your work?”
Or, Mommy responds, “Wash your face. You look like you’ve been playing in the mud.”
That first, enthusiastic positive response is the type that Seligman refers to as active and constructive. In a relationship where there are lots of active and constructive responses, people feel connected and satisfied with each other.
While my example may seem a bit over-the-top, here’s the general idea: respond specifically to the good news, spend some time talking about it, get enthusiastic, be positive, and actively engage in the conversation. This type of response acknowledges and recognizes the good news, responds to their pride in the accomplishment, and shares the joy.
Even though the second response (“Oh. That’s good”) is positive, it brings with it a lukewarm, passive approach. This response says to Amanda, “Why are you getting all excited? This is no big deal.”
The third example could be particularly problematic, because Amanda’s mom may think she is helping—she may believe that she is offering constructive criticism or even encouragement. Really, though, it’s a negative response with an implied criticism that says, “This is too little, too late. You’ll never achieve enough to suit me.”
Finally, the fourth example belittles the news completely. Its implied message, “What’s important to you is not important to me. I barely even heard it. I have other, more important things on my mind, and in those areas, you are far from achieving success.”
Does how we respond to other people’s good news matter? After all, it’s their good news. If they are already happy about it; why would they need us to cheer them along?
In fact, Seligman suggests that “how you celebrate is more predictive of strong relations than how you fight.” How about that?
When the people we care about share their good news with us, they offer us an opportunity to respond, one way or another.
If we pay close attention to how we respond to, celebrate, and share the happy times, perhaps the unhappy, bad news times won’t be so troublesome for the relationship.
Responding actively and positively is not just useful for our family or friend relationships, keep this in mind for your workplace, too!
So the next time someone shares their good news with you, why not give an active, positive response a try? Go out of your way to be enthusiastic. Share in the joy. Engage with the person. Spend some time talking about it. Get the details. Relive the triumph with them.
See how that works for you. And of course, let me know
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