Active and Constructive Responding

In his latest book, Flourish, Martin Seligman introduces very few tools to improve well-being – most of the book is a very interesting and opinionated summary of the current status of Positive Psychology.

One of the few tools presented is called: “Active, Constructive Responding” – and it is yet another piece of evidence that Positive Psychologists are “re-inventing” well-established Solution-Focused practices.

Here I quote Seligman: ” Strangely, marriage counseling usually consists of teaching partners to fight better. This may turn an insufferable relationship into a barely tolerable one… How we respond can either build the relationship of undermine it. There are four basic ways of responding, only one of which builds relationships” – and then he proceeds by providing two examples of the four styles.

I will only use the first of his examples, and I will highlight questions that come straight from SF practice:

Example – your partner says: I received a promotion and a raise at work!

Active and Constructive Response: “That is great! I am so proud of you. I know how important that promotion was to you! Please relive the event with me now. Where were you when your boss told you? What did he say? How did you react? We should go out and celebrate!” Nonverbal: maintaining eye contact, displaying positive emotions

Passive and Constructive Response: “That is good news. You deserve it.” Nonverbal: little or no active emotional expression.

Active and Destructive Response: “That sounds like a lot of responsibility to take on. Are you going to spend fewer nights at home now?” Nonverbal: display of negative emotions.

Passive and Destructive: “What’s for dinner?” Nonverbal: little to no eye contact, leaving

[Note: Seligman credits Shelly Gable, Professor of Psychology at UC Santa Barbara, for  demonstrating that  how you celebrate is more predictive of strong relations than how you fight].

So… SF practitioners out there… do the highlighted questions ring a bell? ;)

I think we would be a little bit more natural in building an “Active & Constructive Response” to what Clients bring: Wow, I am so impressed!! How did you manage to get it? When did this happen? What did your boss say? And what did you say? Were there other people there? What did they say?…

Interview with Janet Beavin Bavelas, Ph.D.

Janet Beavin Bavelas, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., is one of of the co-authors of Pragmatics of Human Communication and, as a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Victoria, still at the forefront of research into interpersonal communication. The research team she leads specializes in the study of face-to-face dialogue – their findings have direct applications in psychotherapy, counseling, coaching, and management. I had the privilege and the pleasure to attend her workshop on microanalysis at the 2010 SFBTA Conference in Banff, Canada.

I was so happy to finally encounter an empirical research method dedicated to exploring the power of interaction to produce change! In my opinion, every Solution-Focused practitioner should become familiar with Janet Beavin Bavelas work: her research results are an essential part in establishing the scientific credentials of Solution-Focus.

Besides being an innovative thinker and a thorough scientist, Janet Bavelas is also a very engaging person and she very kindly accepted to be interviewed for my blog – here are her answers to my questions. I suggest  you take the time to read this interview again and again – as her motto goes, “Life Happens in Detail” and many insights wait for you in the details of her thought-provoking answers. Enjoy!

1)  You have been working a lot with Solution Focused practitioners in the past few years, using Microanalysis to investigate Solution Focused conversations. Can you briefly tell us what draws you to Solution-Focus?

Good question–especially because I’m an experimental psychologist, with absolutely no practical training in therapy or anything else!  I’m glad someone finally asked me that question, because I’ve had my answers ready:

First, Steve, Insoo, and I had the same roots, learning from the Palo Alto Group and especially John Weakland.  The three of us were not there at the same time, but that experience was a lasting influence for all of us.  (I agree with Steve and Insoo, who in a 1991 article pointed out that their SFBT was just one small change from the original Palo Alto Brief Therapy.)  In addition to John’s many wonderful qualities as a mentor, there was the focus of the whole Palo Alto Group on language and communication. That heritage makes it easy for my research group to teach what we do to SFBT folks.  For example, you have the right focus on observable communication rather than on inferred mental processes.

Second, I admit that I am always attracted to good idea that is 180° from what everyone else is thinking.  The new idea has to be a good one as well as challenging assumptions that no one usually questions–then I’m interested.  That was true for the original Brief Therapy and is also true for SFBT.

The third reason is ethical. My personal ethics will not accept inventing negative characterizations of a client and imposing these labels on someone who is vulnerable.  I say “inventing” because there is usually no basis except the opinion of someone in authority. For example, diagnosis usually categorizes an individual based on a single highly limited observation, with no objective check or recheck. The individual arrives at a consultation with one problem and leaves with at least two! More broadly, clinical theories of  personality, cognition, emotion, or brain processes almost always indulge in circular reasoning.  For example,
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Solutionsurfers Brief Coach Training starts on the 14th of June in Berkeley!

I am so excited to be leading Solutionsurfers Brief Coach Training in Berkeley, next week, at the beautiful UC Clark Kerr Campus!

An Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) with the International Coach Federation (ICF), the training is one of the best way to learn how to lead Solution-Focused conversations – a method featured in books like Switch, and an established protocol in therapy.

Here < are some reasons of why learning Brief Coaching skills matters, if you are a Coach, a Consultant, a Manager, an Executive or anyone in a Leadership position. Whenever you need to facilitate change, Solution-Focus is the quickest evidence-based technology we have.

Here < is what is different, and of value, about Solutionsurfers training program.

And > here < are the details – when, where and how much. At 2,980 US$ for 8 days of training and follow-up Skype sessions, with flexible payment options, the price is hard to beat, considering the quality of the training format refined over the years and delivered in such small groups.

There are still two spots left… send me an email now at if you are interested in attending next week!!

See you in Berkeley soon!