Are relationships improved more by how we support people in bad times or good times?
We all know that an important part of maintaining a social bond is being there, both physically and emotionally, when someone is in need. But an interesting new body of research suggests that how we support people during good times, more than bad times, affects the quality of a relationship. Sharing upbeat news with someone is called “capitalization,” and it helps multiply the benefits of the positive event as well as strengthen the bond between the two people involved. The key to gaining these benefits is how you respond to someone’s good news.
Shelly Gable, a leading psychologist at the University of California, has found that there are four different types of responses we can give to someone’s good news, and only one of them contributes positively to the relationship. The winning response is both active and constructive; it offers enthusiastic support, as well as specific comments and follow-up questions. (“That’s wonderful! I’m glad your boss noticed how hard you’ve been working. When does your promotion go into effect?”) Interestingly, her research shows passive responses to good news (“That’s nice.”) can be just as harmful to the relationship as blatantly negative ones (“You got the promotion? I’m surprised they didn’t give it to Sally, she seems more suited to the job.”) Ouch. Perhaps the most destructive, though, is ignoring the news entirely. (“Have you seen my keys?”) Gable’s studies have shown that active-constructive responding enhances relationship commitment and satisfaction, and fuels the degree to which people feel understood, validated, and cared for during a discussion—all of which contribute to the Happiness Advantage.
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