Strong relationships often come up as an important factor in the research into wellbeing and happiness.
Having people around you who you have a meaningful and trusting connection with contributes to our sense of belonging, reduces stress and cultivates positive emotions. Equally, the ability to build good relationships at work plays an important part in our professional success.
I’ve been reflecting on what is the secret sauce to strengthening relationships. One of the people who inspired me to think about it was my one and only fiancé. He is exceptional at building trust with people and I’ve always thought that this is just
because I chose the best guy possible out there something that comes naturally to him. Whilst there is no doubt a multitude of factors at play, one of the ways how we can effectively strengthen relationships with people around us is by paying close attention to our response to the information they share with us. I learnt that there are four types of responses, and only one out of the four strengthens relationships while the other 3 at best have no effect and at worst deteriorate them.
This is when it dawned on me, that my superman fiance has most of the time been using the relationship strengthening response, while I often dabbled in all 4 and no doubt have lost many opportunities to form a bond with someone incredible!
So what are the 4 response types?
This is a passive constructive response. It happens when we sort of respond but are clearly more interested in something else. A very good example of that is when someone is sharing their exciting news with you and you on your phone all that time half-heartedly looking up sometimes and mumbling the occasional – ‘That’s great!’ You think you are participating in a conversation. In reality, you are sending all the signs that you have other more interesting things to focus on.
This is a passive destructive response. It happens when we literally hijack the conversation and change the subject. For example, my fiance comes home and says: ‘Honey, our team has won the soccer game of the season! We now get to play in the state championships.
(disclaimer: I have totally made this up and have no clue if this even makes sense – the point is that he is excited)I am so excited!’ My response:’ That’s great! By the way, look at the new wine glasses I bought us today!’. As you may guess, this is the end of the conversation about the team victory and the future adventure – we are onto the wine glasses now and I have missed the opportunity to relive the positive experience with my partner!
This is an active destructive response. It often happens in conversations with our loved ones and those the closest to us. In our wish for only the best for the person, we steal their joy by giving unsolicited advice or jumping in to raise our concerns. For example, my fiance comes home and says: ‘Honey, our team has won the soccer game of the season! We now get to play in the state championship. I am so excited!’ My response:’This is good news. But you have already struggled to keep up with your workload and combine your soccer practice. How are you going to cope when you have to train even more? And what impact is that going to have on your knee that’s been bothering you?’. Whilst these concerns may be valid, we should allow space to celebrate the success before jumping into problem-solving mode immediately.
Active Constructive Response (ACR)
– and this is the winner! This response is also known as a joy multiplier, as it allows your companion to relive and savour the experience again. This naturally helps to strengthen your relationship and form a closer bond. And this is exactly what my fiancé would always do. Whenever something great happened that I wanted to share with him, his response is: ‘This is such great news! Tell me more! I want to know exactly how it happened! And how did you feel when you found out? What did the rest of the team say? Where did you go to celebrate? What are you going to tell your family?’.He would basically respond actively and constructively!
This is such a simple thing to do, but so easy to forget about the value of paying attention and the power of genuine interest! And the caveat here is ‘genuine’ – you should not fake an interest. If someone approaches you and you are super busy, don’t just half-listen to them while madly writing an email, or change the subject to share your news. Take a deep breath and say that it is not a good time and you would love to hear their news, but later. Alternatively, make a conscious choice to stop whatever you are doing and pay your full attention. And if you have no interest in the person’s news whatsoever, you always have the 3 other response types to fall back on! 🙂