Gable's Four Responses to Good News
Responding Positively to Other People's Happiness
I can never resist telling people good news. I mean, why not brighten someone else's life too? – Sophie Kinsella, author
It's natural to want to share our happy tidings, and we hope our friends, family or colleagues will be pleased for us. In most cases, we get the positive, excited response that we hope for.
But in some cases, we might get a response that "bursts our bubble." Perhaps someone replies to our good news with a dismissive shrug or even a wholly negative response. This can leave us feeling dejected and upset, and may even damage our relationship with that person.
In this article, we explore the four main types of responses that people tend to have when they hear good news. We also look at how you can react positively and constructively to someone else's good fortune, and how this can help you strengthen relationships and build rapport.
Gable's Four Responses to Good News
Shelly Gable, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, identified four possible responses to sharing good news: active-constructive, passive-constructive, active-destructive, and passive-destructive.
Let's imagine you have just told a colleague that you've been promoted. Here are Gable's four possible responses:
- Active-constructive: the responder is enthusiastic, interested and supportive. They might say, "That's brilliant news! I'm so pleased for you. Can I help you prepare?"
- Passive-constructive: they seem positive but their response is muted and with no enquiry. They say, "That's nice," with no real interest or enthusiasm.
- Active-destructive: in this scenario, they energetically belittle or reinterpret your good news, focusing on any negative implications. They might say, "Seriously? It looks like more work for not much money, and the people there are boring. It doesn't sound that great to me."
- Passive-destructive: they barely acknowledge your announcement or changes the subject. A typical response might be, "I see. Anyway, guess who I saw on my way in?"
Of these four responses, active-constructive is the one that has a positive impact and can boost the quality of your relationships. It makes you feel listened to, and it validates the event's importance to you. Positive, engaged responses can build trust and rapport. Ultimately, they are a cornerstone of personal, professional and team successes.
How to Respond Positively to Good News
If you want people to react positively to your good news, it's only right that you should afford them the same courtesy and professionalism when they share their good news with you. Here are some tips to help you be an active-constructive responder:
- Listen actively and with empathy. Let them know that you're giving them your full attention. Don't interrupt and use positive body language, such as keeping eye contact, smiling and sitting up straight.
- Demonstrate your interest. After they've delivered their news, ask questions and offer upbeat responses. For example, you could say, "How satisfying. You must be so pleased," or, "That's brilliant! Your boss will be delighted!" Be positive but don't overdo the praise, or you could come across as insincere.
- If you can't be positive, be constructive. If you have some doubts or concerns about someone's announcement, don't be dismissive or negative. Try to be constructive and tactful in your response.
Positive interactions in the workplace benefit everyone. We feel happier and more engaged and confident when we enjoy good relationships with our team members and colleagues. Our articles, The Losada Ratio and Broaden and Build Theory, explore strategies for creating a positive and supportive environment. And you can learn how to give and receive constructive feedback with our article on the Feedback Matrix.
How to Cope With Negative Responses
But, what can you do if your good news falls on unappreciative ears?
It can be disheartening to receive a less-than-enthusiastic reaction to good news, and can feel as though someone has "taken the wind out of your sails." But there are a few strategies you can use to cope with a negative response.
First, stay positive. Don't let any negativity dampen your mood and don't take it personally. Focus on the good news itself. Besides, the next person you tell may be far more encouraging.
Try to empathize with the responder. Was there an issue with the timing of your announcement, or the way you delivered it? Look at the situation from their point of view, it might shed light on why they didn't share your happiness. At the same time, know where to draw the line. If they're responding passively or destructively for no good reason, disengage from the conversation.
Finally, consider whether you may have misjudged or misunderstood someone's response. They might have been delighted to hear your news but, if they're not a naturally expressive person, their compliments or praise may have been given more subtly or quietly than you expected.
Good news can deliver a double dose of positivity to your life. You get a boost from the initial happy event, and you can then multiply it by sharing your news with other people.
Hopefully most people will react to your good news positively, but in some cases they may not. They might be dismissive, antagonistic or rude.
According to psychologist Shelly Gable, there are four main ways people respond to good news:
Of these, only active-constructive responses are truly positive.
If someone shares their good news with you, respond appropriately. Be enthusiastic and engaged but, if you do have concerns or doubts, be tactful and constructive, rather than dismissive or negative.
Apply This to Your Life
If you have some good news to share, go ahead – share it with the world! But prepare yourself for the fact that people will respond in various ways, not all of which will be positive.
Think about how you deliver your news, and show empathy to help you gauge how people may react. If you do receive negative feedback, try to handle criticism with grace. If you have to give negative feedback, do so constructively. Our article, Giving Feedback, can help with this.
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