Health & Psychology positive conversations

Other People Matter – Creating Positive Conversations

In my ongoing conversations with many schools I work with, it’s been heartening to hear how people have drawn strength from their relationships at school and home to navigate through the COVID-19 crisis.

In fact, research shows that close relationships are perhaps the most important factor for life satisfaction and psychological & physical well-being. So, I wanted to share with you some simple steps from Positive Psychology, the ‘Science of Wellbeing’ to help positively invest in our relationships through the quality of our conversations.

Active Constructive Responding

Shelly Gable from the University of California has led the way on what is called Capitalisation showing that how we celebrate together is a far greater predictor of the strength and longevity of our relationships than how we overcome arguments.

It’s the process whereby when good things happen, we share our joy and excitement with others. However the positive effects rely on the reactions of those we share our good news with. These are usually the people we have close relationships with such as partners, children, parents, siblings, best friends and close work colleagues.

Shelly’s research has shown that when those in close relationships respond in a supportive manner to a positive event being shared, we feel closer, more intimate and more satisfied with these relationships than those who respond unsupportively. This helps our relationships to flourish and buffers the relationships against the potentially hard times that many are facing now and certainly will face in the future.

This simple technique is called Active Constructive Responding

Let’s take a scenario.

Emily comes home from school excited to tell her dad, Peter, that she has been chosen to attend a regional student leadership conference. Emily, looking delighted, shares her good news. Peter smiles at Emily and responds:

“Wow that’s great, well done!” and then proceeds to continue with what he was doing.

Now although Peter looks pleased to hear the news and congratulates Emily, this is in fact a PASSIVE CONSTRUCTIVE RESPONSE. It is positive but passive. So what could Peter have done to make this an ACTIVE CONSTRUCTIVE RESPONSE?

The answer is quite simple. By smiling and maybe even hugging Emily but actually responding:

“Wow darling that is great news. Where’s the conference? What role are you going to play? Tell me more about how you got chosen …”

The key difference is that by asking questions Peter is allowing Emily to enjoy her moment and expand on her positive news and feel her positive emotions for longer. This makes her feel good about herself, Peter and their relationship too.

Now this might sound obvious but it’s all to common that when sharing good news even with our nearest and dearest we get an ACTIVE DESTRUCTIVE RESPONSE.

In this case Peter might respond to Emily:

“Is that going to interfere with your school work? How much is that going to cost me? You don’t even like public speaking”

You can see how such as response can drain the positive energy from this situation and deflate poor Emily.

Alternatively, Emily might receive a PASSIVE DESTRUCTIVE RESPONSE from Peter. After she has shared her good news this response would take the form of:

“Ok, your turn to empty the washing machine” or “I am going to go on a conference next month too”

In this case Peter either ignores the news completely or turns the attention to himself.

I think we have all been there both experiencing these destructive kind of responses and more likely giving them ourselves!

The key message here is to purposefully look for opportunities to genuinely allow those close to you to savour in the their good news and experience their positive emotions.

This week be more aware of how you respond to others and how they respond to you when good news is shared and look for more opportunities to actively constructively respond to those close to you and share your learning about this approach with others.

Strengths Spotting

A great deal of research is showing us that when we help both adults and young people to see and build on their strengths it has a significant impact on enhancing wellbeing, engagement and achievement as well as reducing levels of stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms.

So why wouldn’t we want to learn how to discover and recognise strengths in ourselves and others and have conversations that support strengths awareness and use?

This can be good for the well-being of both parties and can impact positively on the quality of their relationship as there is greater respect for strengths people bring and also understanding of how they might be overplayed sometimes.

Visit www.viacharacter.org and take the free Values in Action Character Strengths Survey. Check out your own strengths and then do some strengths spotting in your own family. Start looking for what’s working well for them and generate some discussion about the strengths you see in each other.

Each family member choose a top strength and help each other to become more mindful about how that strength can be used in new ways this week.

Acts of Kindness

Another relationship building strategy that has repeatedly shown positive results in well-being research is performing acts of kindness. Choosing to be kind and altruistic towards others can take place randomly as opportunities arise – looking for opportunities to step in and help others or leaving someone a surprise treat. They can also take place on a regular basis whether that be volunteering in a nursing home, cooking for a neighbour or walking a friend’s dog. Either way participants in studies have shown significant increases in happiness and well-being as both the giver and receiver of acts of kindness.

Being kind to others fosters a greater sense of interdependence and cooperation within the social community and that belief that social support is there. Acts of kindness also increases levels of the ‘feel good’ hormones oxytocin and serotonin leading to what some call the ‘helper’s high’ and they generate momentum to ‘pay it forward’ as those in receipt of an act are more likely to do something good for someone else.

Discuss with your family how you might all look out for opportunities to carry out an Act of Kindness in the next week.

Respectful Engagement

This is about being ‘present’ and having a clear intention to give our attention to others. Think about that and how often you are able to switch off both the phone and your own agenda and just ‘be’ there for someone else.

Respectful engagement is about really listening, asking questions rather than telling people what they should do and demonstrating care and compassion. This is very much a coaching style of engaging with others and it can facilitate reflection, strengths awareness, attention to what is working well and help people to find solutions and form more positive relationships and of course build high quality connections.

As a coach I also believe that if we truly give our attention to someone even for 10-15 minutes it is an act of kindness in itself and we have seen already how beneficial this can be for both parties!

For now choose one person to intentionally give your attention to this coming week and reflect on the impact it has on your relationship.

Conclusion

In the world of Positive Psychology we know that even the smallest things that can make the biggest difference – that the mindful investment of a tiny positive gesture today can pay huge dividends on the strength and resilience of a relationship in the future and in turn on our own and our family’s capacity to flourish. Remember also in these COVID dominated times that positivity is contagious too!

About the Author

Clive Leach is an evidence-based coach working widely across the education and business sectors. For coaching opportunities please contact Clive at or through LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/cliveleachconsultancy/

References and Resources

www.randomactsofkindness.com

https://www.ggs.vic.edu.au/Blog-Posts/the-benefits-of-active-constructive-responding

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Strength-Switch-Strength-Based-Parenting-Flourish/dp/1101983647

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