What is it about certain moments that deepen our ties to others and how do we create more of them?
Those are amongst the questions Chip and Dan Heath pose in their terrific book The Power of Moments.
Chip and Dan share the research of Harry Reis, a social psychologist who has spent his career studying this mystery.
Turns out there is a simple answer: Our relationships are stronger when we perceive that our partners are responsive to us.
What does that mean?
Harry breaks down responsiveness into three components:
1: Understanding: My partner knows how I see myself and what is important to me.
2: Validation: My partner respects who I am and what I want.
3: Caring: My partner takes active and supportive steps in helping me meet my needs.
Think of it as attunement.
Or lack thereof…
We walk through the door, distraught and our partner doesn’t notice.
We describe a new interest or passion and our partner seems uninterested or dismissive.
In a situation where a hug would go a long way, we get a blank face.
Non-responsiveness is toxic. It robs us of our individuality. The message we get is: we’re not seen or treated as special.
Responsiveness, on the other hand, is correlated with security, self-esteem, emotional well being, and reduced stress. It leads infants to feel secure and children to feel supported. It brings couples closer together. It makes us more satisfied with their friends.
One of my favorite stories of responsiveness from The Power of Moments comes from a struggling elementary school where there was a history of mistrust between teachers and parents.
A new principal instituted a practice where prior to the start of the school year, each teacher would visit the homes of their incoming students.
They were instructed not to bring any papers or documents.
Instead, the teachers asked four questions:
Tell me about your child’s experiences in school? Tell me about yours? (Understanding)
Tell me your hopes and dreams for your child’s future? (Validation)
What do you want your child be someday? (Validation)
What do I need to do to help your child learn more effectively? (Caring)
23 parents had shown up for “Back to School” night the prior year. The new principal and her team set up 50-seats hoping the home visits would make a difference. All 50-seats were taken 15-minutes before the program was scheduled to start. The principal scrambled to find 100 more seats. To her amazement, 10-minutes later these seats were full, too. The faculty had been sitting – so they gave up their seats. In all, more than 200 parents attended.
That’s the power of responsiveness.
Reflection: How might I act more responsively to the important people in my life?
Action: Be intentional this evening about tuning into my spouse, child, parent, or friend.