Just a few days ago in one of my college-level English courses, a senior boy put me on the spot.
[One sidenote here: whenever my students write an essay, after I grade it, I always have them go back and make revisions one more time--for a separate revision grade. Theoretically, they have been away from their writing for a bit, they now have a different lens to view their essay, and they have some feedback from me. It is usually a very beneficial process; I think it is when they actually make the most gains.]
During this revision process, the young man called me over, pointed at his screen and excitedly asked, “Were you proud of me for this idea? I thought it was pretty good!”
I had left a comment on his document stating that I was impressed. In that moment, I was thrust into an opportunity to apply Active Constructive Response. I replied, “I was VERY proud of you. That was a really deep idea, and you explained it really well. How did you feel when you came up with it?”
He then lit up even more and shared a few additional pieces about his crafting process. In a way, he was reliving--and celebrating--his experience. Together we created an upward spiral.
Our Response Matters
There are really four ways we can respond when someone shares something positive, and only one of them truly helps others to flourish and builds a positive relationship, but they all can be found in daily life. The response types include being either Passive or Active in combination with being either Destructive or Constructive. I’ll give some examples for each using my student’s situation:
“Were you proud of me for this idea? I thought it was pretty good!”
Passive Destructive (The Hijacker)
Verbal: The responder ignores the event and/or changes the subject.
Nonverbal: The responder has little to no eye contact, and/or turns away/leaves.
Example: “What was for lunch today?” ...and walks away.
Active Destructive (The Assassin)
Verbal: The responder verbally minimizes the event and highlights the negative.
Nonverbal: The responder gives little eye contact, shows negative facial expressions/emotions, and/or turns away.
Example: With a firm exhale and rolling eyes… “Are you looking for a treat? There were a lot of good ideas in class. You probably spent way too much time coming up with that one.”
Passive Constructive (The Meh…)
Verbal: The responder acknowledges the success and gives some support, but it is low energy.
Nonverbal: The responder shows little to no emotional expression.
Example: “Yep. It was good stuff.”
Active Constructive (The Positive Charger)
Verbal: The responder shares enthusiastic and genuine interest and helps the individual relive the experience by asking more about it, their feelings, or the process.
Nonverbal: The responder maintains eye contact and shows positive facial expressions--like smiling.
Example: “I was VERY proud of you. That was a really deep idea, and you explained it really well. How did you feel when you came up with it?”
The only of these that helps people flourish and enhance relationships is Active Constructive.
Scan for Positive Events
Active Constructive response is not natural; it takes practice. Although it might be difficult at first, it is important to avoid it sounding forced and insincere. One strategy that may help is to scan for positive events as much as possible. Look for successes in others. Listen for moments of pride or joy. When you can, comment on it and ask for more information. Try to help them relive the experience.
As educators, it is much more natural to accomplish this when a student shares a success directly with us. It makes it easy. They tell us something and then we react and ask about the situation. However, we can also use Active Constructive Responses during, and after, grading assignments, projects, or tests. While we are assessing students, we can be sure to acknowledge quality work and also include comments/questions like How did you come up with this cool thought? or I bet you felt awesome when you crafted this sentence. It takes a bit of extra time (and some practice), but it is well worth the small investment. When we are handing an assignment back to a student, we can take a moment to ask them a question
This works with your co-workers, too. Acknowledge the great idea, the cool project, or the effective way to deal with a challenge. Both students and staff members will flourish in a Active Constructive environment, so scan-scan-scan away!
Some Positive Side-Effects of Active Constructive Response
There are a few side-effects that have been proven to occur:
The big questions:
Do you engage verbally and nonverbally?
Do you help them relive all or part of their success?
Does your response increase a student’s well-being?
Does it help build a relationship?
When we positively engage in other’s success and help them relive it, we strengthen their well-being and enhance the relationship. We create an upward spiral.