Positive relationships are contagious!


The power of positive relationships in education cannot be overstated. We are a service industry; therefore, relationships are the core of everything we do.

Chris Peterson, a Positive Psychology guru, has a mantra of “Other people matter” and the research now tells us how much people matter to our overall life satisfaction and wellbeing. 

We can all relate stories of how negative people bring us down, make us miserable and not wanting to involve ourselves in anything, and how positive people leave us happy, energised and wanting to do more.

We have all heard of the ‘Pygmalion effect’ – (you know “My Fair Lady”) and in Tauber’s research in 1998 he asserts that “one’s expectations about a person can eventually lead that person to behave and achieve in ways that confirm those expectations.”  

Research done at Tel Aviv University over a 25 year period showed that when a leader expects subordinates to perform well, they do!  This concept is true for all our relationships but particularly in our education systems. Develop positive relationships, have high expectations and watch them materialise! Build it and they will come! (only this is real!)

Communication is vital (obviously!). So be sure to consider your visual cues, vocal cues and verbal cues. If they are not authentic, people will not trust nor build a positive relationship with you. 

Shelly Gable (Uni of California) researched communication for positive relationships and found that there are basically four ways of communicating or responding to another.

They are:

  • Active Constructive

  • Active Destructive

  • Passive Constructive

  • Passive Destructive

The best way to explain these is through a simple example. I’ve just won the lottery I can’t wait to tell you – “Hey I’ve just won $50,000!!”

Active Constructive response:  “Oh wow, that’s awesome! Are you going to celebrate? You must feel so good about that! All the choices you have now! Congratulations!”

Active Destructive response: “Oh really? Well I can only imagine all the family come out of the woodwork to get their share. You are going to be inundated with phone calls from randoms to buy this or buy that! How are you going manage all that? Oh well, guess you’ll manage.”

Passive Constructive response: “Oh that’s terrific, lovely”

Passive Destructive response: “Oh I didn’t know you had a ticket.  Can you pass me the sauce please?”

Which one are you and which provides the most positive relationships in schools (or anywhere)?

At every level of the school framework, consideration needs to be taken to all of the dimensions of developing positive relationships. How are the emotional skills of staff, students, the community? How effective are the interpersonal skills across the school, within leadership, teaching and administrative staff, students and parents? What structures are in play to deal with difficult relational issues? What strategies and processes ae employed to repair and restore ‘broken’ relationships?  The answers to these questions in your setting, will dictate how the relationships in your school are developed and maintained.  How does your school help their students build positive relationships? How does the school ensure there is consistency across every classroom, in the staffroom and externally?  What is the culture of your school with regard to relationships? Is it open, clear and known by the whole school community?  At the end of day, the quality of the relationships will determine the quality of the learning. Positive relationships = positive learning.

And finally, if you want proof that positivity is contagious, go outside, walk down the street or stand in a shop or bus stop and start smiling at everyone. I guarantee they’ll start smiling back (just don’t be too creepy or you may get arrested!)

Emma Hackett