Thursday, October 7, 2010

That's Great! Now Let's Get in the Car.

Traffic stopped momentarily on the hilly road in suburban Maryland when my phone warned me of a new voicemail message. I stared at the numbers from the missed call, noticing the area code 215. Being a Philadelphian, I can quickly recognize and assign numbers to people with this three digit code, but I knew right away that this was the call I had been anticipating. I quickly tapped the keys to retrieve the message and I instantly heard the voices of two strangers. In fact, I didn't even hear their names because my heart was beating so rapidly with excitement. All that I heard was "We are calling to congratulate you on being accepted into the MAPP (Masters of Applied Positive Psychology) program at the University of Pennsylvania this year. We are so excited to meet you." Tears were running down my face and I had the overwhelming urge to pull over on the side of the road and shout my news to the whole world. Instead, I feverishly dialed everyone in my immediate family, starting with my husband, to share my good news. I remember my husband's reaction being one of similar elation and joy. I will never forget that moment and the accompanying joy as I told one person after another of my accomplishment.

Sharing good news is easy for some people and more difficult for others. Non-sharers may feel as if they are bragging, boasting or being selfish by sharing the good, while sharers may see good news as a way to relish in an accomplishment or spread a good feeling. Regardless, the way you respond to another's good news may predict the overall well-being of a relationship. According to researcher
Shelly Gable, supporting partners when good things happen is as important in building relationships as supporting them when bad things happen. Gable's research supports the need for Active Constructive Responding (ACR), or capitalization, in relationships and defines this as the ability to respond with enthusiasm, support and interest. Think of this in the context of sharing news with a friend. Scenario: You call a close friend to tell her news of your engagement, promotion, pregnancy, or financial windfall. How does she react? Your friend may retort "That is incredible news! You must be so happy! Tell me about what happened when you got the call?" This friend asks questions that enable you to relive the moment and she genuinly shares in your joy. Other typical responses Gable highlights include:

Passive Constructive: Shifting to another topic. Great news! Did you see Oprah today?"
Active Destructive: Deflating. "Are you really ready to have a baby?"
Passive Destructive: Ignoring. "Let me tell you about my day."

When you think about this scenario, I bet you can pinpoint those friends who are better ACRers than others. Aren't those the friends you want to share news with the next time? Read more here about ACR:

Now think about ACR in relation to your child(ren). As parents, we often go through the day reacting and responding to problems; spilled juice, dirty diapers, laundry piles, or arguments between siblings. I wonder if the same findings from Gable's research applies to parent-child relationships. The more constructive we are in responding to the good news in our children's lives, the more supportive the relationship will be in bad times. This morning for instance, my daughter caught me as we were walking out the door, asking if I had seen the little blue card that was in her backpack. I had, in fact, seen it, and inconspicuously placed it on the kitchen counter the night before. I stopped for a minute and walked over with her to retrieve the card. It was a certificate of achievement from the kindergarten teacher for her successful completion of writing uppercase letters. I stole a minute from my hectic morning to show my interest in her certificate, what she did to earn it, and hear her enthusiasm for being part of the "capital letter club". Aside from the ACR response above , other typical reactions could have included "Great job!", "Well, what about your lower case letters?" or "That's great. Now let's get in the car." Generally, an ACR response to good news is riddled with open-ended questions like "Tell me more!", "What was it like?", "What was going through your mind?" You relive the experience with the person sharing the news.

When I picked up the phone to dial family and friends during the morning of my momentous drive to work, I called those who enhanced my experience and feelings of positivity through their enthusiasm, support and interest. Share a moment of ACR with your children, spouse or close friend and answer the yes to the question "will you be there for me when things go right?"

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