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What is Active and Constructive Responding?

The technical definition

Active and constructive responding (ACR) refers to one of four ways in which we respond to good news; it is part of a theoretical framework proposed by psychologist Shelly Gable. Active and constructive responding is the most effective way to respond, giving both the deliverer of good news and the listener a positive outcome. (The other three ways include passive and constructive, active and destructive, and passive and destructive.)

Huh? What does that mean?

How do you react to a friend when they share good news? Imagine your partner comes home from work and announces that she received a promotion at work. There are many ways in which you could respond to this news. An ACR responder might say, “That’s amazing, honey! I knew they would recognize your hard work. Let’s grab a bottle of champagne and celebrate. I’d love to hear more about your new position.” When people share good news, they want you to share in their joy. And this goes far beyond just a pat on the back. Conveying authentic interest, pride, and even curiosity in someone’s good news are all hallmarks of ACR.

ACR takes practice. The other three typical forms of response include a passive and constructive reaction. One might say, “That’s good news.” This response includes positive feedback but does not include an active, elaborative component. An active and destructive responder may say, “I never get to see you as it is. If you take this promotion, you’re going to be at the office at all hours of the night and even more stressed than you are now.” Although you have actively elaborated in response to the news, the content is destructive. Then there is the least effective response which is passive and destructive – “Okay. Are you ready for dinner?” This response is passive and contains no positive, affirming information. Essentially, it’s a blow off to the good news.

Keep in mind that active and constructive responding extends to nonverbal communication. An active and constructive response includes eye contact and smiles, while an active and destructive response features frowning or glares. Both types of passive response include little or no emotional expression. A passive and destructive response may also include a lack of eye contact or leaving the room.

How do I use this in my life?

ACR helps develop and maintain strong personal relationships. If you retrain yourself to offer active and constructive responses to the people in your life, you will find yourself feeling more positive as well as receiving positive feedback from others. When your child tells you that she made the soccer team, resist the urge to complain about how much more driving that will mean for you or how much her gear will cost. Resist the urge to just say, “I’m proud of you.” Instead, congratulate her with specific statements of praise. For example, you might say, “That’s great news! You practiced so hard over the summer, and now it’s paying off. I can’t wait to see you play in your first game. Tell me more about it!”

Breaking the habit of making passive or destructive responses can be difficult. To begin, try to make only active and constructive responses for one full day. Over time, it will become natural to respond actively and constructively to others’ good news. Remember to make eye contact, smile, and use affirmative nonverbal communication. By making these positive responses, you will make others feel good and will feel genuinely excited about their successes.

References

Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R. (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.

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