So much of how we connect to others has to do with how we respond in conversation. Have you ever noticed that sometimes conversations just die? Even when you are hoping to talk more but it seems like there just is not much else to say? Or maybe you haven’t given much thought to your communication/conversation style much, but you feel that you just don’t “connect” as well with the people in your life as you would like to. Here is one surefire way to start improving this.
Dr. Shelly Gable’s research on social interaction and close relationships talks about four types of communication responses:
Active Constructive (authentic, enthusiastic support)
Passive Constructive (understated support)
Passive Destructive (ignoring the event)
Active Destructive (pointing out negative aspects of the event)
What does this mean and how does it apply to me? Here’s an example: Your kid says to you, “Mommy/Daddy, I won student of the week!” You have a choice how to respond to this.
“That’s amazing honey! What did you have to do to win?”
“Did you get a certificate or reward of some kind?”
“How did you feel when you found out?”
“What would you like to do to celebrate?”
“You’ve been working so hard this week, even when you get frustrated with your homework, you have really pushed yourself to get it done.”
This would be an Active Constructive response.
“That’s good honey.”
This would be a Passive Constructive response.
“Have you started on your homework?”
This would be a Passive Destructive response.
“Well obviously your teacher doesn’t know how you’ve been acting at home lately. Are the other kids being mean to you now because you are a suck-up?”
This would be an Active Destructive response.
Make sense? We might not think about how we respond to our children, our spouse, our friends, or our co-workers. We might be tired, preoccupied, or just coming off a stressful day. But the way we respond to things can make or break relationships.
Obviously, the Active Constructive response is the best response as it is engaging with the person and makes them feel listened to. In a Passive Constructive response, people often will not feel listened to and even though it’s a positive response, it does not demonstrate presence. With a Passive Destructive response, the person will feel ignored (because that is what you are doing) and will feel whatever they have told you is unimportant to you (and depending on the inner strength of the individual, especially with children) may teach them to devalue their importance as well. Active Destructive responses are generally the response of the pessimist. We all know someone who no matter what you say to them, they will find a way to put you down or find the negative. This is the friend or co-worker to whom you say, “I joined a gym over the weekend. I’m really going to stick to it this time!” Then they respond, “I did that once. What a waste of money. I hope you didn’t sign a contract! You’ll never have the time to make it to the gym.”
You are thinking of someone right now who does this aren’t you?! So at the very least, let’s resolute not to be that person. I really encourage you to listen to the way that you respond to the people in your life when having conversations. Think about how you might engage more by asking an open-ended question.
For example: “How was your day?” versus “Tell me about your day. What was the best part?”
Even if you are tired or crabby, do your best to engage even a little with a more specific response than “good job.” Try to point out a more precise observation such as: “Congrats! I know you have been putting in extra hours on this project. Your proposal was thoughtful and well-constructed!” Try this out this week. Pay attention to your typical response, or what is on the tip of your tongue to say and try to use an active constructive response instead.
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