The most consistent predictor of a happy life is good social relationships. So, how do you improve your relationships?
I’m currently enrolled in a psychology specialization program provided by UPenn. And this week, I learned that Active Constructive Responding (ACR) is a scientifically proven response style that strengthens relationships and amplifies shared positive experiences.
Teaching couples ACR, I was told, increases love, sexuality, and lowers divorce rates. I wish I had known this years ago.
To put it simply, it’s a way to strengthen bonds and share more positive experiences with your children, friends, colleagues, and partners. Who wouldn’t want that?
I dare you to try this at home or at work. Seriously, it’s well worth it. It works like magic if you take the time to learn it.
Active constructive responding is not as difficult as it sounds; it is simply a natural way of responding to good news, and you can use it immediately after reading this article to improve almost any relationship.
ACR complements gratitude practice nicely, and I’ve combined the two for a double dose of positivity with my son. In a moment, I’ll tell you about my experience.
If you’re a school counselor, I’d like to hear your thoughts on using this strategy in your practice, it could be beneficial in establishing a positive relationship with your students.
Active Constructive Responding for better relationships
The way we interact with others is absolutely crucial. Do you want to know how to reply in the most effective way possible to improve your relationships?
When responding to others, you can be active, passive, productive, or destructive.
Here’s an example from Martin Seligman’s lecture that illustrates all four ways to respond. Martin is a leading authority on Positive Psychology, resilience, learned helplessness, despair, optimism, and pessimism.
What do you say to your partner when he or she returns home from work with a promotion?
Assume your partner returns home from work after receiving a promotion.
Which of the four possible responses would you choose?
Let’s take a look at each response type.
1. Passive & constructive responding
The most common type is passive constructive. That is, “Congratulations, dear; you truly deserve it.” However, it has little to no effect.
2. Passive & destructive responding
“What’s for dinner?” is an example of passive destructive language. I’m sure you can see why that would be bad.
3. Active & destructive responding
When she comes home from work and tells you about her promotion, you ask her, “Do you know what tax bracket it will put us in?” Yes, that would be detrimental to the relationship as well.
Active constructive responding is the only thing that works, and it may not come naturally. We can, thankfully, learn it.
4. Active & constructive responding
In active constructive responding, you’re attempting to reconnect her with the experience of getting promoted. It could, for example, begin with the following questions:
• What did your supervisor say when she informed you that you had been promoted?
• What were you doing at the time, and how did he begin the conversation?
• What do you believe the true grounds for your promotion are?
• What are your greatest assets that have helped you advance in your career?
• And how can you make use of them more frequently?
• Shall we pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly?
Active constructive responding to good news isn’t just for couples. It’s definitely about friendship, and it’s also about the workplace and children.
Active Constructive Responding with kids
So, when I picked up my son from school, I did the ACR with him. I was sly…
- I waited for good news.
- I made direct eye contact.
- I responded actively and constructively, with zeal, genuine interest, and positive emotion.
- By asking questions, I encouraged him to relive the experience.
This is what happened:
Anton told me that he had a great time playing dodgeball. I recognized the clue, looked him in the eyes, and led him through a reenactment of the incident by asking more questions.
I asked him when exactly he had played dodgeball to help him reconnect with the memory. He said three times during the school day, including right after lunch. He smiled, and I could see in his eyes how he was remembering the events. He was clearly pleased with himself as he reflected on it.
I smiled as I told him how wonderful everything sounded and congratulated him on a fantastic day. He was overjoyed!
I can see how ACR works; it allowed me and my son to share a wonderful bonding moment in the parking lot that would have been meaningless without the ACR.
The beauty of active constructive responding is that it allows both parties to experience positive emotions and feel a genuine connection.
Following that, I’ve used ACR to assist us in improving our gratitude practice. If you practice gratitude with your students, active constructive responding can help them reconnect with the memory for which they are grateful.
How could you apply ACR in your work or at home?
Here’s a quick rundown of how to respond the ACR way:
When people you care about bring you good news, you have four options.
Active Constructive Responding is a response style that strengthens relationships while amplifying others’ positive experiences.
To respond actively and constructively to someone, you must respond with zeal, genuine interest, and positive emotion.
- Be patient and wait for some good news.
- Make direct eye contact and maintain eye contact throughout the conversation.
- Actively and constructively respond with zeal, genuine interest, and happiness.
- Guide him/her through a reenactment of the experience by asking questions.
Find a friend, your child or another family member, or a coworker to practice with. Allow them to deliver the good news to you, or incorporate ACR into your gratitude practice with children, and then do your best to respond actively and constructively.
You can use it to brighten the day of anyone you meet. I used this hack just yesterday when a preschooler told me about her deceased pet and her new kitten named Kitty… the conversation ended on a positive note, and I believe both of us felt a lot better.
I hope this brief intervention helps you and your relationships. <3
If you enjoyed this mindfulness and positive psychology-based activity then consider signing up for my upcoming children’s gratitude and well-being journal series and see if you will be one of the lucky ones to test drive the first journal for free before the launch. Sign up below:
With gratitude, Chris Bergstrom
Chief Mindfulness Ninja @ Blissful Kids
#1 Best-Selling Author of:
Ultimate Mindfulness Activity Book: 150 Playful Mindfulness Activities for Kids and Teens
★★★★★ Awesome “Bought this book for my 6 year old, but even my 3 and 15 yo love the activities. We usually incorporate activities on a daily basis and it’s been working so far.”
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★★★★★ Cute and calming “With the craze being all about baby sharks, it’s a great idea to take it and use it to help our kids calm down themselves. I’m a therapist and look forward to using this with my kid clients.”
Chris Bergstrom is a bestselling mindfulness author, a leader in the field of mindfulness, the founder of BlissfulKids.com, a blog dedicated to children’s mindfulness, and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also known as “the dad who tried 200+ mindfulness activities” and has taught meditation for more than 15 years.