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How do you build effective productive relationships with your people?  Here’s one critical element that is all too often ignored.

How to build productive relationships

Shelly Gable, an assistant Professor of Psychology at University studies “motivation and emotion in close relationships” – and what closer relationship should there be than between a leader and a team member they wish to engage and motivate to great productivity and results?

Four ways of responding to good news

Gable’s research shows that supporting people in good times, especially when they have good news to share, is just as important as being there for them in tougher times when the news is not so good.

She explains that in responding to good news you have just four possible options – and which option you choose as a default when your people bring you good news has an enormous effect on your relationship with them.

Let’s say one of your team comes to you and tells you “Hey we won the SAP account!”. Here are the four classes of potential responses:

1. Active Constructive

An Active Constructive response is a genuinely enthusiastic response, e.g.:

“Congratulations – that is the best news I’ve heard all day. What are the next steps?

Did they tell you why you won the business? Will this help you win IBM too?”

Genuine Active Constructive responses are typically accompanied by a lot of encouraging nonverbal behavior too – smiling. touching, laughing, making eye contact, being enthusiastic etc.

 2. Passive Constructive

Responding passively constructively is delivering a neutral and generally disinterested response:

“That’s good news, well done”

Passive Constructive responses are typically devoid of any enthusiasm or any encouraging nonverbal behavior – no emotional expression, eye contact, smiling etc.

Gable calls these two first modes of responding ‘capitalizing’ – they emphasize the positivity and pleasure of a good situation and amplify the positive emotions that are key to building strong relationships. And while the Passive Constructive option is not as effective in this respect as the Active Constructive it is infinitely more impactful than either of the last two options, which have quite a decidely negatively effect:

3. Passive Destructive

Pretending not to notice the good news or simply ignoring it is a Passive Destructive response:

“What time is the sales meeting?”

The nonverbal behaviors here are focused upon discouragement – no eye contact, turning away, showing one’s back, even walking away.

4. Active Destructive

Worst of all is looking for the negative dimensions to the good news – emphasizing the downsides, which is the Active Destructive response.

“Be careful what you wish for – I’ve heard they are really demanding as a client. You can say goodbye to your home life now. I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes”

The nonverbal behavior accompanying this is typically decidedly negative – displaying negative emotions like worry, downturned lips, furrowed brows etc

You’re a leader, so…

It’s clear – if you want to be a charismatic leader who engages people then you have only one option for responding when your team bring you ANY good news: Active Constructive (or, worst case, Passive Constructive).  This can be a great contributor to getting the positivity/negativity ratio in your team environment well above the Losada line.

Of course, being human, there will be times when you just do not feel like rising to the challenge of being actively constructive – we all have off days.  As a leader this is not an option for you – you must rise to the challenge of Active Constructive responses to all of the minor triumphs of your team on a consistent basis.  So, on those days, ‘fake it ’til you make it’!

Observe yourself

Over the next few days observe how you respond when brought good news by one of your team – and make sure that you make the stretch to be actively constructive.  Don’t go over the top with the praise or flattery – you could turn them off completely.  Even a few interested questions likes the ones above show sufficient positive interest to have the desired effect.

Finally, don’t confine this to your business relationships – much of Gable’s research shows that this is highly effective in couples’ relationships.  It may even be more important to exercise this with your children.

Be actively constructive with all of those around you and watch everyone around you respond in kind.

How do you build better relatiohsips with your people?

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