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
Consider times in the recent past when someone at work and someone in your personal life shared their good news. How did you respond? If your response didn’t fall into the active constructive category, see if you can revise your response. Can you reframe how you thought about or looked at the victory? 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.
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, 2022, and virtual tickets are available as well.