Positive Communication for Building Relationships

When was the last time you did something where it felt like time stood still, you feel you were at your best, you felt incredibly engaged and alive, and the outcome was amazing?

Well, you were probably using your strengths to create your version of excellence.  I’ll bet most people don’t think about these peak experiences very often, but they should.  The more we focus on our strengths, the happier, more productive, and more creative we are.  We tend to also have much better results.  So by studying our peak experiences, we can mine for clues as to the ways we can pursue happiness and excellence at the same time.

Even just telling the story of our peak experience tends to be fun and rewarding.  This is particularly true if the listener responds in an active constructive manner.    In other words, instead just of saying “that’s nice” or “good for you” (passive constructive), if the listener responds with an affirmative and specific response, it will strengthen the relationship.  Active constructive feedback also helps the speaker savor the experience.  So when my son tells me he made an A on a difficult assignment, I might ask him which part of the assignment was the most difficult, what did he do to be successful this time, was he surprised to get such a good grade?

I can get extra “brownie points” by also pointing out strengths I might hear in his story.  For example, I might observe that he used diligence by studying every night, good problem-solving skills by using multiple resources to obtain a deeper understanding of the material, and good self-control and maturity by studying before going out with his friends.  He may walk away from the conversation feeling even better about his performance and improved self-awareness of skills he may be unconsciously using for success.

The other ways someone may respond to a positive story or good news is by being passive destructive (no response) or active destructive (being critical).  The latter might be, “What? You only made a 93?  Why not a 100?”  As the labels imply, both types of responses are potentially destructive to a relationship.  Then you’ll need to say at least three positive things to make up for the damage  or even more (5 good words for every negative word) if this is your spouse and your goal is a loving relationship.

So, if you want to build your relationship, listen for and communicate strengths to the speaker, help people savor their positive emotions, and cultivate those emotions with positive constructive responses.  Just imagine how good this would feel to you if this is how your friends, family and co-workers treated you that way every day.

Would it change your relationship?

Go try it!

Source:  Martin E. P. Seligman, Flourish

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