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Improve your relationships with Active Constructive Responding.

Updated: May 19, 2021

Did you know that how you celebrate together is a stronger predictor of a good relationship than how you fight?

When thinking about the happiness of a loved one, nothing comes more strongly to mind than the sharing of good news, good events and good times with each other.

However, we sometimes unwittingly sabotage the happiness of the person we love because of the way we communicate back.

Our friends, or husband or wife, or our many other loved ones might share with us something fantastic that has happened to them. They are super excited and happy about it.

However, for any number of reasons, we behave like a complete goondo and brush it away, making it insignificant.

Wife: "Honey! I so Happy! Today I won $20 NTUC voucher in company lucky draw!"

Husband: "$20 only. Cannot even buy Garoupa to steam lor."

Perhaps during then, we are busy with something and are distracted. We might be feeling gloomy or worn down at that point of time. Maybe it's just that we are plain selfish and can only think of our own happiness.

Whatever the excuse, we steal away from that person an opportunity to be happy. And further to that, an opportunity to be happy together.

What is Active Constructive Responding?

It's actually a concept coming from Positive Psychology, a domain of Psychology we talk about a lot on this blog.

Active Constructive responding is a way of structuring our communication to respond positively and be engaged in the happiness of another when they tells us their good news.

Shelly gable, a professor of Psychology at the University of California is the woman behind this concept.

She found that how you celebrate positive events is more predictive of a stronger relationship than how you argue or fight (Gable et al. 2006).

Interesting right? It's really a great way to improve your relationship and it comes from a different angle than managing conflicts and arguments. Not to mention, it creates more fun times too.

There are Four types of Responding according to her research:

The Four Types of Responding to other people's good events

As you can see from the above, there is only one right way of responding to a person to share in the good news and to build on the relationship.

How might this work in real life?

Consider this real-life scenario that happened last week for me:

My wife just received a promotion at work.

After three years, she's now Senior Pharmacist at her clinic. She could not be more happier after working hard and getting involved in many projects.

She can't wait to share this good news with me. She rushes home from work and when she gets home, I happen to be on the couch watching Netflix's Terrace House.

She tells me her news and I could respond in the following ways:

Example of Active Constructive Responding
Four different ways I can respond to my Wife's good news

As you can see, only by responding in an Active Constructive manner can I really share in her good news. By sharing the excitement and what the event actually means for her, she feels validated, supported and loved.

On the other hand, here are some possible scenario outcomes if I responded in any other way:

Passive Constructive: "Oh, I see. Eh, what's for dinner tonight ah?"

My wife can see that I acknowledge her achievement, but only little bit and not the same level as she does. She feels a little upset and keeps quiet during dinner. I'm a total goondo.

Active Destructive: "What! Didn't you say you hated your job? Don't be stupid and accept the promotion lah! Faster quit now. Otherwise you'll be stuck there forever".

My wife immediately fires up and becomes Dragon Ball super saiyan yellow-colour hair mode. She starts arguing with me about all sorts of things, like how I'm never supportive, why never wash dishes, why never fold underwear. That night I sleep on the couch all alone. No aircon in living room.

Passive Destructive: "Oh that's nice! Does it mean you get more pay? Yay, we can finally go on cruise now ".

My wife can't believe I'm only interested about the money rather than her happiness. She says she needs to go out for a walk and leaves the house. I eat maggi noodles for dinner alone. No more eggs in the fridge also.

Your activity is this:

For the next week, listen careful when your loved one tells you about something good that happened to them. Go out of your way to respond Actively and Constructively.

You can even practice this with anyone, your close friends, family or partner.

As a tip, ask the person to relive the event with you.

The more time he or she spends reliving the event together with you, the better it is. Look out for good events during the week and keep practicing.

You can try out different variants of Active and Constructive responding. If you like, you can even write down the event and what you said in response in a journal.

Once you start doing this, you might find that people like you better.

They spend more time with you and share more details of their lives with you. You'll probably start feeling better about yourself too.

It's a great way to cultivate more Positive Relationships in your life.

Thanks for reading my fellow Singaporean! Hope you enjoyed this one and stay tuned for more psychology and wellbeing-focused articles on Kaya Toast for the Soul.


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