How to Respond to Good News Like a Leader
Don’t expect high performance when you sabotage enthusiasm.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Jewish Proverb
Words have consequences. You don’t have to be a genius to identify words that energize people and words that suck the life out of people.
- What do you love doing?
- What are you great at?
- Why did they hire you?
- What do people see in you that invites them to trust you?
- Go ahead and brag. What’s going well?
More good things are happening in your organization than bad. The problem is, you notice bad with greater frequency and intensity.
Response invites response. Learn to respond in ways that strengthen relationships and produce results.
Shelly Gable’s research found that people commonly respond to good news in one of four ways.
4 responses to good news:
Passive destructive response:
- Lack of attention.
- Changing the topic of conversation.
- Acts distracted. (Looking at your computer screen or watch.)
“Guess what happened to me.”
Passive constructive response:
- Passive engagement.
- Low enthusiasm.
- Casual smile.
Active destructive response:
- Point out problems. Everything isn’t ALL good.
- Focus on uncertainty.
- Express concern.
“Are you sure?”
Active constructive response:
- “Tell me more.”
- “That’s fantastic.”
- “How did this happen?”
- Physically lean in.
- Pat on the back.
- Turn from your computer screen.
The video, “Active Constructive Responding,” illustrates all four responses. (YouTube)
#1. Create an environment where noticing GOOD is part of the mix. I’ve started saying, “Tell me something good.” People look at me like I’m nuts. Just keep doing it.
#2. It takes more skill and intelligence to make positive suggestions than it does to point out what won’t work.
#3. Say, “Tell me something that might work.” Or, “What could we try?”
How do leaders throw cold water on enthusiasm?
How might leaders fuel energy?
Flourish, Martin Seligman (Book)
Constructive responding worksheet (Pdf)
Thanks Dan! I begin every coaching conversation by asking what people are celebrating and where they are making progress. Most take so little time to celebrate and are grateful for the opportunity to do so.
Thanks Ken. I have to remind myself to do this. I appreciate your example.
Great post Dan. Leaders words carry power to crush the team, or spur them on to greatness.
Thanks Jay. I think it’s helpful to assume responsibility for the impact of our communication, not simply for the content.
Employees naturally go to the bad, so during coaching after listening to call we always start with What went well? Or What did you love about that call? Or What can you highlight for me that you though you did well? If you ask, how was that call? They immediately start listing off all the things they did wrong. We will get to that, but let’s start with what you did right. Seeing your strengths and being able to articulate them is crucial to moving forward. The right stuff begets the right stuff, positive begets positive.
I admit I had that attitude early on with our monthly team calls. No one spoke, the call went longer than planned, the material was irrelevant. But I realized that I wasn’t doing anything but feeding into the negative on a call that was, on the other hand, positive and informative. Sure not all material applied to me, but it helped me see the direction we as a team were headed. I had to look at it from a positive stand point and I started being positive about it with other team members.
The other day I finished a final draft of a deliverable with a team mate, and he said, “Well, that should check the box for what they’re looking for.”
What a buzz kill. The last thing I want my work to be known as is “checking a box” or meeting any kind of minimum requirement. You’re right, those words count. And I went from being proud of what we’d accomplished to believing it needs a full re-write in two seconds.
Thanks Erin. You remind me that it’s impossible to fuel performance and suck the energy out of people at the same time.
I lit up when I read the “5.Go ahead and brag. What’s going well?” – I am going to steal this idea (all credit to you – thank you!) and implement it in our team meetings. My staff are humble, quiet, but I know they all love being appreciated. What a wonderful change to promote their ownership of their successes! I will call it our G.A.A.B session (Go Ahead and Brag).
Wow… nothing like a useful acronym. Thanks Sacha.
When a leader doesn’t run with your suggestion or recommendation, it can kill your energy to move forward with that project. I’ve been on that end several times with my leaders and nothing pushed me further away from a project than rejection. But when a leader gives you the freedom to make a choice and they stick with your choice, that can be empowering, boosting your confidence in the project or team.
For the success of a team, leaders should give more freedom and less delegation to promote participation. Some might see this as not leading, but I feel giving team members options instead of commands can assure full engagement. Especially if a member thinks they excel at what they picked, they are less likely to fail since they personally picked that task.
Thanks Tim. I think freedom scares some leaders. Perhaps competence answers fear. If our team is competent, trusting them should be easier.
My wife and I find ourselves responding passive constructively sometimes with our children. On occasion we may be occupied with work or a chore and a child wishes to show us something that they think is really cool. I can understand how in the video it shows passive constructive on the destructive side, because there is no sincere constructiveness going on. Passive constructive responses are merely destructive responses in a fancy suit. Whenever I find myself doing this, I really try to readjust myself and start the conversation over. I think a leader should not be scared to ask to the restart the conversation in the event they realize that they are responding inappropriately. It is safe to say, “I’m sorry. Can we start over? I had something else on my mind, but please repeat what you said, I am truly interested.”
Brilliant and encouraging, Gary. “Can we start over…” <—- love that.
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