Big Mistakes People Make in Response to Good News

3 Big Mistakes People Make in Response to Good News3 min read

By Jon Beaty

September 11, 2015

good news, communication

When your spouse, children, co-worker or friend comes to you with good news, how do you respond? Research on how we respond to good news reveals only one right way to respond. There are also 3 wrong ways. Repeating these 3 big mistakes too often can hurt a relationship.

My 12-year-old son sometimes talks a lot. I’ve noticed he talks the most when he’s excited. If I pay attention, I see the enthusiasm in his eyes and hear it in his voice. It happens when he finds a new bug, builds something out of scrap wood, or modifies one of his toys in ways it wasn’t designed to be.

But when I’m busy, I sometimes fail to listen. I don’t ask him to wait until I have a few minutes to hear what he has to say. Instead, when he comes with good news, I nod my head and say, “Uh, huh,” without taking the time to hear him. He walks away disappointed.

When my wife’s nearby, she’s good at noticing when I’m pretending to hear. She gets my attention and encourages me to stop and listen. But I need to learn to stop and listen without her giving me a cue.

I’m working on forming a new habit.

Shelly Gable is a research psychologist at University of California. Her research narrows the types of responses we have to other people’s good news down to 4.

The best way to respond to good news multiplies the positive effect of the good news. Not only that–it strengthens the bond between the two people involved. It increases trust, reduces conflict, and increases satisfaction in the relationship.

Avoid the first 3 responses when someone comes to you with a good report. These can cause people who care about to back away from you. Make a habit of the fourth.

1. The Passive-Constructive Response

This is when we say something like, “That’s nice,” or “Good for you!” I’m afraid I’ve used that one a lot.

2. The Active-Destructive Response

Some examples of this include: “Are you kidding me? There must have been some kind of mistake,” or, “There are others who deserved this more than you do.”

3. The Passive-Destructive Response

When we allow someone’s good news to go in one ear and out the other, we’ve perfected this one.

4. The Active-Constructive Response

When you want to build a stronger connection with someone, celebrate their good news with them. If you make comments like, “That’s awesome!” “Congratulations!” and, “You go!” you’ll score big if your enthusiasm is real. Then ask questions about what they told you. Once you’ve heard the headline of their report, ask them to tell you more. Listen to their story, ask questions, and give feedback to show you’re listening.

Pause and think about an opportunity you missed to cheer with someone about their good news. Visualize yourself in that moment giving the active-constructive response. Imagine the words in your response, your tone of voice, the expression on your face, and the added pleasure the other person might have felt from you sharing their excitement with them.

Now, go practice it on someone’s latest good news, and add more happiness to their day.

About the author

I'm a counselor, writer and believer in the power of God to help you thrive in your marriage and family. I live with my family, a small herd of Boer goats, and thousands of honeybees near Portland, Oregon.

  • Hey Jon,

    These are great! I’m guilty of #1 as well. I’m going to have to work on this. Unfortunately, it’s an easy trap to fall into. My girls love to talk. Listening to their stories, while making school lunches, waiting for the morning coffee to kick-in, and trying to be affirming at the same time isn’t easy. Yet, you are so right about the value of the active-constructive response. This is an area I’ll be working to grow in this year.

    Thanks for a very helpful post! I like how you make the bad habit easy to pinpoint and the offer a straightforward solution.

  • Well said Jon. When I’m doing resiliency training we demonstrate these three wrong ways to respond and everyone usually gets a laugh out of it. Then when we demonstrate the active contructive it usually gives people that light bulb moment.

    It usually goes well when we see coaches on a athletic field. They usually go into great detail about what someone did wrong so it can be corrected. But when someone does something right we say good job and give an at-a-boy. When we should be telling them what we seen right and reinforce what right looks like.

    I’ve been guilty of all three and still working on it. Where I’m really challenged is when someone’s good news turns into my story about something similar. We call this a joy thief. It’s not your good news its theirs and we should ask powerful questions to boost that excitement so they want to come back and tell us more good news when it happens. Building a deeper and lasting connection.

    • Hey Kirby,

      Thanks for your comments. What you said about avoiding turning someone else’s good news into an opportunity to upstage them with your own–that’s a good point to remember.

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