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Peak Mind Pro: Enhancing Relationships

Strong relationships are a key aspect of well-being, for individuals as well as workplaces. While lots of attention gets paid to critical relationship skills like conflict resolution and boundary setting, we see surprisingly few conversations about the other end of the spectrum. Developing skills that actively enhance relationships is equally as important. 

It turns out that how you acknowledge and celebrate victories matters. In fact, it’s more predictive of strong relationships than how you handle conflict (according to research from UC Santa Barbara). While some people seem to naturally bask in others’ glory, this doesn’t always come easily, especially in the workplace. Fortunately, these are skills that can be learned. 

When it comes to responding to good news, positive psychology research tells us to consider two dimensions: active v. passive and constructive v. destructive. 

Active v. Passive

This factor relates to your degree of involvement in your response. Active responses are more engaged and robust, including animated facial expressions and detailed verbal content. Passive responses, on the other hand, are more, well, passive. They are characterized by neutrality, distraction, and disinterest. You might assume that an active response is preferable because it strengthens your relationship more, and you’d be correct, with a big caveat.

Constructive v. Destructive

That caveat lies with our second dimension, which captures whether the response adds to or detracts from the relationship health. Constructive responses add to – think of them as positive. In contrast, destructive responses tear down the relationship; they are negative.

Putting It Together

Taken together, the way you respond when coworkers, bosses, subordinates, partners, friends, family, or your kids share good news can fall into one of four categories:

Active Constructive – You are fully engaged and interested. You acknowledge the victory and expand by asking questions. This is what we’re shooting for. Active constructive responses are like making deposits in the relationship bank account, building strength, and promoting goodwill and collaboration.

Passive Constructive – While you acknowledge the victory, you do so in a generic way, typically in a neutral tone or while distracted. This is better than the alternatives below but leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to strengthening the relationship. 

Active Destructive – You give an active, involved response…that is negative, finding some way, perhaps inadvertently, to tarnish the victory. This response is damaging to the relationship.

Passive Destructive – You pretty much ignore the good news altogether. This response is also quite damaging.

Tips to Try

There is a lot more to relationships than date nights. Consider times in the recent past when someone at work and someone in your personal life shared the good news. How did you respond? If your response didn’t fall into the active constructive category, you should work to improve the way you are looking at it. What might you have said or done differently to enhance the relationship? What can you do to improve your relationship? 

Reflecting on your interactions after the fact and taking the time to revise your initial responses to be more active and constructive can help you cement this skill. 

Helpful Hints

  • Make eye contact.
  • Put down your phone.
  • Be specific. A generic “good job” is nowhere near as powerful as a specific “You did a really great job navigating the demands of this project.”
  • If praise feels inauthentic for you, try appreciation instead. “I like how you formatted that report” or “Thank you for your attention to detail. That really made a difference in the outcome here.”
  • Ask a follow-up question. Questions convey curiosity and interest. This can also open up pathways to bond over the long term. 

Communication Styles

Celebrating victories is one important aspect of building healthy relationship skills, but there is so much more to learn! In our next Quarterly Psych Strength Workshop Series installment (April 2022), we’ll be focusing on communication styles and how to use that information to level up your interactions and enhance your relationships further. If you’re interested in learning more about how your team can participate in this powerful learning experience, email us at info@peakmindpsychology.com or click the link below.


Peak Mind is proud to be a featured speaker at the first Humanity At Work conference hosted by A Deeper Way. This 3 day event will be held in Minneapolis in May, and virtual tickets are available as well. 

“Celebrate the success of others. High tide floats all ships.”
– Susan Elizabeth Phillips
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Stop Feeling Bad

How many times have you said, “I feel bad”? How many times have you been asked “What’s wrong?” or told, “Don’t be sad/mad/worried/_____”?

About a million, right?

And therein lies a problem. 

We are taught from early on that certain emotions are good. They’re ok to have. They are desired. Other emotions, in contrast, are bad. We shouldn’t want them, or worse, we shouldn’t even have them. We’re taught to believe that when they show up, there’s something wrong. There’s a problem – our EMOTIONS are a problem – and problems need to be fixed. This leads to working hard to get rid of those “bad” feelings. Unfortunately, avoiding, suppressing, getting rid of, or otherwise fixing feelings doesn’t actually work. Worse, we might even pile on to them by beating ourselves up for having them in the first place.

What most people aren’t taught is that emotions – the full range of emotions – are normal and natural. By virtue of being human, you are destined to feel sad. And mad. And guilty, jealous, joyful, embarrassed, confident, ashamed, happy, disheartened, peaceful, confused, surprised, ambivalent, horrified, empty, excited, etc. You will feel them all, whether you want to or not. In fact, we’re wired to have twice as many negative emotions as positive ones, and we have them for a reason.

Emotions Serve an Evolutionary Purpose

Our brains have the enormous job of processing every bit of data coming in through our five senses all of the time so that they can keep us alive. As a result, they’ve developed a lot of shortcuts. Emotions are one.

Emotions are messengers designed to give us a lot of information very quickly and motivate us to act in certain ways, aimed at ensuring our survival. Think about it. The message of anxiety is danger, and the action urge is to avoid or escape. That’s very helpful when a threat to our bodily safety is near. The message of guilt is “I did something wrong,” and the urge is to make amends. Again, helpful for a social species whose survival depended on being part of the community. Even in present-day when we’re not likely to be eaten by predators or die if we are shunned, emotions are incredibly useful…when we understand and have a healthy relationship with them. 

 

Redefining Your Relationship

Bad is not feeling. Neither is good. Those are judgments, another brain shortcut. Our brains quickly categorize things as good and bad, safe and unsafe, desired, or undesired to speed up information processing. When it comes to feelings, though, judging them is part of the problem. That’s not promoting a healthy relationship with them. Consider this. How healthy is your relationship with that person who constantly judges you?

When we designate natural, normal experiences as “bad,” we’re setting ourselves up to struggle. Feeling sad or anxious or angry or guilty at some point is unavoidable (remember, we are literally WIRED to feel them). Yet, when we call something “bad,” we are saying to ourselves that we shouldn’t have that experience, that there is something inherently wrong with what’s going on inside of us. That would be like saying that having to go to the bathroom or eat or sleep is bad. It’s just a part of being human. We accept those experiences, throughout the course of our day, and move on.

We need to do the same with feelings

When we can learn to recognize the emotions that show up and call them by their proper names, not “good” or “bad,” with the understanding that they are there for a reason, we are now open to receiving their messages. From there, we can decide whether the message is helpful or not and whether to act on the urge or override it.  

 

Dealing with Painful Emotions

Once we are able to pause, take a step back, and call our emotion by its name, we’ve already begun to make space for it, to allow it to be there. As we examine our emotions with curiosity, we can reflect on whether acting on them is in our best interest. The goal is to take the input from your feelings under consideration but to stay in the driver’s seat of your actions. And sometimes the best course of action, the one that keeps you moving in the direction that is right for you, is simply to be patient. All emotions, even the most intense and difficult ones, will pass if we let them. If we do not add fuel to the fire and, instead, know that we won’t drown in them if we just stay mindful and compassionate, they will burn out.

I heard this quote the other day that so deeply resonated. 

 

Emotions aren’t math problems to be solved. They’re sunsets to be experienced.

If that didn’t immediately make you pause, read it again.

Emotions are not math problems to be solved. They are sunsets to be experienced.

That shift in perspective leads to a fundamentally different way of relating to your emotions, a new way to be with them, especially the unpleasant ones. It allows you to make space for and explore with curiosity the very human experience of emotions.

Instead of judging feelings and falling into the trap that comes from having “bad” feelings, we need to accurately recognize them and precisely name them, open ourselves up to having them so that we can explore them with curiosity, glean their message, then move forward intentionally. We need to bask in those sunsets.Doing so isn’t easy, and it doesn’t come naturally to many of us. Fortunately, we can all build psychological strength, including those skills of emotional intelligence and acceptance, which, among many others, we teach inside our Ascend program. If you are interested in building your own psych strength, consider enrolling in Ascend or our brand new live Quarterly Workshop Series (or bundle them and get the workshop series free for a year). Now through the end of the month, use coupon code THANKS2021 to get 20% those and any of our other programs.