How The Practice of ACR Can Help You Build Stronger Relationships And Teams

The highest performing teams in sports and business are built on shared purpose, collective effort and strong relationships. All three are needed to achieve excellence. Let’s focus on the need for strong relationships. For team members to perform at their best, they need connectedness within the team. That is built on trust, knowing others have your back and commitment to one another. When teams aren’t operating on all cylinders, performance suffers.
With the recent publication of books like The SPEED of Trust from Steven M.R. Covey and Love Does from Bob Goff, it seems excelling businesses are putting more emphasis on the importance of relationships in the workplace. Let’s be honest, think about your top performers. Do they feel valued, understood, validated and cared for? Those who do likely work harder, produce more and are more committed to the overall purpose of the organization.
Shelly Gable, professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, has studied how the way we respond to other’s positive events and good news impacts relationships. While her focus was in the context of personal relationships, I believe it has implications for how we operate as teams in business, sports and at home. True to the discipline of positive psychology, Gable encourages us to focus on what we can learn from successful relationships, not what’s wrong with the bad ones.
One way to cultivate a culture of relationship is to encourage your team to demonstrate what Shelly Gable calls “Capitalizing” or active constructive responding (ACR) when team members share positive events. ACR is characterized by actively showing genuine interest and constructive enthusiasm. Gable found that there are four ways people tend to respond to other’s positive events (outlined below). More importantly, only 1 of these 4 ways of responding builds stronger relationships. The other 3 are destroying the relationships your team relies on to win.
Being active and constructive in our responses to other’s positive events isn’t easy. Allow me to give you an example of the four typical responses to other’s good news. Listen for familiar themes you hear from your team.
Picture this: Your good friend and fellow sales rep approaches you after a meeting, bright eyed with a huge smile, and joyfully announces that she finally landed that big account.
A passive constructive response: “That’s great.” Returning your attention to checking your email, you smile and nod. “What’s wrong with that?,” you might ask. Your teammate feels embarrassed, unimportant and that you don’t really care about her. It isn’t a terrible response, but it lacks heart and connection. Surely that distraction can wait just a minute.
A passive destructive response: Either, “Hey, want to grab lunch one day next week?” basically ignoring the event all together, or, “You won’t believe what happened this morning,” which turns the conversation to yourself. Your good friend stutters to a halt, not sure you even heard her. “Here we go again,” she thinks, because you regularly steal the conversation. She walks away feeling devalued, deflated and demotivated. Soon, she won’t be choosing you to share her excitement with. Or, much else for that matter.
An active destructive response: “Big account? That’s a lot of pressure. You are going to have to fly to Chicago a lot more now. I thought you didn’t want to miss more of your son’s games.” –  taking the wind right out of her sails. Her excitement turns to anxiety, worry and fear. Maybe I made the wrong move. I should have thought of that. You just effectively crushed her moment of happiness like a child stomping on the birthday present you gave him.
An active constructive response: “Wow, that’s great, I’m so excited for you. Tell me how it happened.” – continue with follow up questions that show genuine interest, support and help them savor the moment. This is our target response. Your teammate’s face lights up. She feels valued, understood and cared about. As she recounts the success, you both both grow in excitement. The relationship grows too as you genuinely listen and show you care for her. Plan on hearing more good stuff from your friend in the future. 
Hopefully you can see the significance of active constructive responding (ACR) and how the other three can slowly deteriorate a relationship over time. It is important for you and your team to develop the skill of ACR and build a culture that values relationship.
To help me be more intentional with ACR, here are 4 suggestions keep me focused on building the strong relationships we all need to be successful.
#1: Put aside distractions. Focus in on the other person for just a few minutes and give them my full attention.
#2: Hold my 2 cents, doubts or wisdom to myself. I know that even if I have concerns, the moment of excitement isn’t the time to have them be heard. These are best kept to a future conversation, even when my concerns are well intended.
#3: Express authentic interest. Smile. Express how proud or happy I am of the other person. Lean in with curiosity to ask a few follow-up questions that encourage the other person to share more about the event or experience.
Everyone wins. Their happiness was multiplied. And, as it turns out, its contagious. I walk away more energized too.
Do you want the people around you to experience greater life satisfaction, higher positive emotions and greater relationship well-being? If so, try to give them a steady diet of ACR. Chances are, you’ll boost their engagement, motivation and satisfaction in their work as a result. Hopefully the 4 principles above can help keep you on track and build stronger teams at work, on the field and at home. It is well worth the investment.
Question: How might ACR transform your team? What other strategies help you build stronger relationships in your teams? Please share your ideas in the comments below. 
Links: (posts, books, links, etc.)


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