Raising Your Interpersonal Stock: React Positively to Positive News

August 14, 2011 by Ken Nowack

“We are always more anxious to be distinguished for a talent which we do not possess, than to be praised for the fifteen which we do possess”

 Mark Twain

One of the things I’ve learned being a volunteer puppy raiser of guide dogs for the blind is about giving feedback.

With guide dog puppies, you really only need two things to effectively communicate with them: 1) Their name, and 2) The command (e.g., “Rocco, down”).  Any attempts at a real “conversation” will most likely interpreted by the dog as “blah, blah, blah” (e.g., “mom really wouldn’t appreciate you chewing on that”).

One of the other lessons in raising guide dogs is the importance of verbal praise.  The old classic book “The One Minute Manager” emphasized “catching them doing things right” and it is still one of the best simple techniques to reinforce behavior that you want to see repeated in others.

This technique seems pretty well established for “behaviors” but how should we respond when we hear people sharing “good news” with us about an event that occurred on a particular day?  What is the best way to respond to “good news” and how does it affect the other person when we do?

How to Respond to Good News Expressed by Others

Four studies by Shelly Gable at UC Santa Barbara showed that communicating personal positive events with others is associated with increased daily positive affect and happiness beyond the positive event itself1.

By studying hundreds of couples, she’s found that when partners disclose positive news about their day, how the other reacts matters — a lot to the emotional fabric of a relationship.   Gable found that when an individual responds actively and constructively (as opposed to passively and destructively) to someone experiencing and expressing a positive experience–attraction, feelings of friendship and positive affect significantly increases.

Positive reactions also magnify the uplifting effects of the good news for the partner who’s doing the sharing, she discovered.  A negative or semi-positive response to a partner’s good news, however, can undercut all the benefits derived from disclosing in the first place, such as fostering trust, intimacy, and satisfaction with the relationship.  In fact, it emotionally is interpreted that the other person is discounting and just not valuing the positive experience of the other in a relationship.

How do you typically react and respond when a partner, family member, friend or colleague shares with you something they experienced and are excited about?

The Four Ways to Respond

Your colleague announces they just heard they were promoted. You could react with:

1.  An Active Constructive response

“That’s awesome, you really have worked hard and made some great contributions to the organization” followed by questions.  This response demonstrates caring, support and a vote of confidence.

2.  A Passive Constructive response

“Well that’s great news” and then quickly change topics that are completely unrelated.  This response shows some degree of support but is much more passive and detached.

3.  An Active Destructive response

“It sounds like you will be on the road a lot more like the other partners so hope you will be able to find some time to have a life.”  This response is generally deflating as it seems to focus on the “negative” aspects of the great news (“cloud in the silver lining”).

4.  A Passive Destructive response

This can either be a response that is totally self-focused (“Well, great!  I can’t wait to tell you what happened to me” today”)  or irrelevant (“Hey, before you tell me more I wanted to ask about…..”). This response tends to ignore the situation or event altogether.

Her research suggests that reinforcing the good news of others may have very important intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits–telling others  about positive events seems to be related to both greater life satisfaction and positive feelings in others.  Receiving passive or even destructive responses wipes out the boost to mood that comes from sharing, and can make people feel worse than on days when no good things happen.

A non-supportive reaction to a another person’s positive news is a direct measure about the health of the relationship (and for those romantically involved it is actually predictive of its breakup) than whether the partner, colleague, friend or family member is supportive after bad news is experienced and shared.

So, the next time someone you care about shares something exciting and positive about their day with you, put down that remote control, get off your computer, stop texting and respond in a way that will raise your interpersonal stock in their eyes–focus on the positive and take an active interest in actually what is most meaningful to the person.

I’m not sure this will be ideal for raising guide dog puppies for the blind but it likely better than the “mom won’t be happy with you doing that.”  Be well…..

  1. Gable, S., Reis, H., Impett, E. & Asher, E. (2004). What do you do when things go right?  The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 228-245 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Engagement, Relate

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  1. Love the Mark Twain quote. He is always funny, pithy and wise. I also like what you did with this topic. It made me think about how I respond to others and what I can do better. Hard to believe but I don’t recall thinking about this consciously. Finally, is that gorgeous white dog Rocco? I have visions of a black dog…would that be Ajax? Thanks Ken.

  2. Ken Nowack says:

    That is indeed a picture of Rocco our new 10-month year old guide dog puppy! Ajax (our last black lab) is now helping a wonderful man become more independent and free and we are proud to have contributed to his success as a working guide dog for the blind….I am also fond of this quote by Twain: “To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.” Thanks for your comments!!

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