WHY ARE WE BETTER AT RESPONDING TO BAD NEWS THAN GOOD?

Humans have a negativity bias. We hold on to bad news, negative thoughts, and pain for far longer than positive events.

Think about the last storm you endured. Did you discuss it with friends? Talk about it with strangers on line at the supermarket? Did it dominate the news cycle?

What about that perfect spring day? Did that garner anywhere near as much of your attention? Probably not.

Maybe we simply take the good for granted.

DISTRESS

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When a friend or family member is stressed, overwhelmed, or in crisis, you are there for them. You find the time to listen, offer advice, and do what you can to reduce their burden.

How do you react when they share good news?

ACTIVE CONSTRUCTIVE RESPONDING

The concept of Active Constructive Responding is attributed to psychologist, Dr. Shelly Gable, a professor at UC Santa Barbara who researches the importance of responsiveness in relationships.

As an example, let's say your partner comes home and tells you that she was promoted at work.

These are the four likely responses:

1. ACTIVE DESTRUCTIVE

Your response might be "That's great, but doesn't that mean you'll need to work longer hours?" or "I'm happy to hear that - will you be traveling more and spending more time away from the family?" Karen Reivich, Director of Resilience and Positive Psychology Training Programs at University of Pennsylvania, calls this response the "Joy Thief." It takes positive news and turns it into a negative.

2. PASSIVE DESTRUCTIVE

In this situation, you might say "That's great honey, did I tell you that the washing machine got fixed today?" or "Wow, wonderful news. What's for dinner?" While you are acknowledging the good news, you immediately change the conversation to an unrelated topic. Dr. Reivich calls this the "Conversation Hijacker."

3. PASSIVE CONSTRUCTIVE

A typical response would be "That's really fantastic." You would immediately return to reading your book, making dinner, or focusing back on your screen. There is no engagement; Reivich calls this the "Conversation Killer."

4. ACTIVE CONSTRUCTIVE

In this scenario, you engage your partner in the conversation by saying "That's awesome. How did you find out? What are your new responsibilities? How do you feel?" These questions enable your partner to relive the experience by telling you about it, enhancing the positive emotions. Dr. Reivich refers to this as the "Joy Multiplier."

Want more information on Active Constructive Response? Watch this 4+ minute video from Tal Ben-Shahar.

REAL LIFE SITUATION

A few days after learning about Active Constructive Response, I was talking with a friend about a business concept she thought had a lot of potential.

As a critical thinker, I immediately jumped in, offering what I perceived to be the risks and causes for failure. Midway, I recognized that I was being the dreaded Joy Thief and redirected my comments to find out more about what she found intriguing and why. She was not asking for my analysis; she was simply sharing something about which she was excited.

WHERE CAN YOU USE THIS?

Active Constructive Responding is valuable for both work and personal relationships. Take advantage of opportunities to be a Joy Multiplier and see what happens. Let me know how it goes.

I recently completed Dr. Reivich's Coursera course, Positive Psychology: Resilience Skills. It's a great class and is part of Penn's Foundations of Positive Psychology specialization.

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