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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

How Do You Respond When People Share Good News?

Susanne Gaddis, a.k.a The Communications Doctor has for many years been a veritable goldmine of "Prescriptions for Effective Communication", as she calls them, and her new weekly email tip-sheet, Communication Booster Shots, continues the tradition.

A friend, family member or colleague shares some exciting (from her point of view) news with you. So how do you respond? This is the pertinent question that Susanne poses in her Booster Shot No. 2.

She cites Shelly Gable, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles, who talks of four distinct response styles different people use in responding to a friend's good news. Let's say your friend hops over to you, bubbling with excitement, and whispers (or shouts) in your ears:

"I received a promotion and a raise at work!"

Prof. Gable asserts that most people would react in one of these four ways:

Active and Constructive Response (You react enthusiastically): "That is great, I bet you're so proud! I know how important that promotion was to you! Let's go out and celebrate." (Nonverbal communication: maintaining eye contact, displays of position emotions, such as genuine smiling, touching, laughing).

Passive and Constructive (You say "little" but convey that you're happy to hear the good news): "That is good news." (Nonverbal communication: little or no active emotional expression).

Active and Destructive (You point out potential problems or the downside of the event): "That sounds like a lot of responsibility to take on. There will probably be more stress involved in the new position and longer hours at the office." (Nonverbal communication: displays of negative emotions, such as furrowed brow, frowning).

Passive and Destructive (You seem uninterested): "What are we doing on Friday night?" (Nonverbal communication: little to no eye contact, turning away, leaving room).

Recognize yourself? In which category?

Susanne adds an example of her own. This situation may even be more familiar. A work colleague walks over to you very briskly and announces proudly:

"I just found out I got the day off!"

Again, your response will most likely be in one of the same four styles:

Active and Constructive Response: "Wow, that's super! Have you got anything fun planned?" (Nonverbal communication: maintaining eye contact, displays of positive emotions).

Passive and Constructive: "That's nice." (Nonverbal communication: little or no active emotional expression).

Active and Destructive: "Well, I'll be here working! I've heard it's going to be really busy around here." (Nonverbal communication: displays of negative emotions).

Passive and Destructive: "I had a bad day today." (Nonverbal communication: little eye contact, turning away).

Well, which would be your choice?

Prof. Gable's recommendation goes without saying: If we're interested in strengthening our relationships, there's no substitute for the "Active Constructive" approach. We must respond to good news in a way that helps someone savor the good moments in life.

As Suzanne puts it, by providing an "Active-Constructive" response we contribute to an upward spiral of positive emotion.

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