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Wellness Wednesdays with Diana: Active Speech

Wellness Wednesdays with Diana: Your Weekly Dose of Happiness, Nutrition, and Fitness Tips

Active Speech

Building character is not part of the curriculum. While college requirements may include Intro to Astronomy and Advanced Calculus, you’ll rarely find a university that will encourage you to take a class called How to Be a Good Friend. Modern-day society ends character education at around sixth grade, and it’s a shame.

Positive psychology, luckily, stands as a testament to the value of this kind of education. American Psychologist Martin Seligman highlights the importance of examining our everyday speech to make any relationship—with a colleague, friend, child, spouse etc.—a healthier relationship.

I thought I was a decent listener until I realized, thanks to him, that listening isn’t what we think it is. It’s not a passive, quiet activity with a little bit of eye contact.

Seligman’s exercise differentiates what he calls active-constructive responding (an enthusiastic response) from the worst degree: passive-destructive responding (a response that conveys disinterest). Most people respond somewhere in the middle, which in the long run, he believes, may lead to overall dissatisfaction in the relationship.

Psychologists Gable, Reis, Impett, and Asher (2004) outlined the different levels of responses we give in our day-to-day conversations. Suppose your friend got a raise at her job.

An active-constructive response (an enthusiastic response) would be: “That’s great! I bet you’ll receive many more!”

An active-destructive response (points out potential downside): “Are they going to expect more of you now?”

A passive-constructive response (muted response): “That’s nice, hun.”

A passive-destructive response (conveys disinterest): “It’s so cold outside.”

Are you guilty of passive responding? Work on it. Psychologist Christopher Peterson suggested starting with one of your close relationships and keeping track of how you respond to your friend/partner/parent’s good news.

“Do you respond enthusiastically, asking questions and sharing in the glory of the other person?” If the answer is yes, Peterson challenges you to try looking at a different relationship. By improving a small aspect of speech, you can build a stronger relationship, which builds both of you up and contributes to each party’s happiness.

Keep working on it until it starts to come naturally to you. And hopefully then you can tell someone about how well your active-constructive responding exercise is going, and the circle will continue when they actively respond to this piece of good news. It sounds like a mouthful, but that’s the kind of positive energy you need to perpetuate in your community. Good luck!

Diana Gonimah is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania from Cairo, Egypt. She is a writer, Features Editor, and Recruiting Chair at the UPenn chapter of Her Campus. She’s passionate about psychology, journalism, creative writing, and helping people in any capacity. Check our website every Wednesday for Diana’s column!



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