What is Active Constructive Responding?

When you are a psychology student, one of the aspects of the subject you will be studying is social psychology, which is all about human behaviour, relationships, and language acquisition. You will study how people communicate, and how different communication styles can influence outcomes.

One of the most important but often overlooked parts of communication is listening, and there is currently a lot of research going on into different ways of listening. You might have heard of active listening, which is often given as a piece of advice to job candidates. 

Active listening involves recognising the difference between hearing and listening, in order to become a more sensitive and empathetic listener. For example, the listener will pay attention to the speaker’s tone of voice, body language, and other forms of non-verbal communication as part of the whole. 

The listener then may reinforce this with their own body language, such as appropriate eye contact, nodding, and smiling. They may also interject with verbal cues to encourage the speaker to keep talking. At the same time, the listener will be making a conscious effort to comprehend and retain what they are being told. 

The next stage of active listening is sometimes known as Active Constructive Responding, or ACR. This is specifically designed for responding to someone who has shared good news, or a positive experience. This ensures that the other person feels validated, and it can increase levels of trust and closeness, and promote a better sense of well-being.

The listener responds positively to the good news, and shows enthusiasm and interest. They may ask questions which help to reinforce and elaborate on the positive news, such as asking the speaker how they feel, or details about what happens next. The aim is to demonstrate that you share their joy, and are genuinely pleased for them.

This may sound like an obvious way to behave, but it is surprisingly common to be dismissive or negative about good news, if we feel there is a flaw in a plan, or if we are simply too busy and tired to show that we share in the speaker’s pleasure, for example.

Showing disinterest, or turning the subject to something else, is known as ‘Passive Destructive’. This may be because the listener hasn’t really thought about what they’ve just heard, or noticed the body language or tone of voice of the speaker. 

It may be deliberate, if the relationship is strained for some reason, or because the listener is too tired or distracted by their own concerns. ‘Active Destructive’ responses occur when the listener takes in what has been said, but finds fault, or raises potential difficulties or doubts. 

Of course, sometimes, it may be helpful or necessary to point out a pitfall. However, it is more beneficial for the relationship to show you are happy for the speaker first and foremost. Tactfully raising some constructive criticism can be done after the positive direct response has been made.

Finally, the ‘Passive Constructive’ response involves engaging with the speaker, but responding in a lukewarm fashion, which leaves the speaker feeling deflated and dismissed. This can be easy to do, unless we make an effort to use active Constructive Responding skills. 

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