How to Be Great at Relating, #1: Be the Bearer of Good News

Has someone else’s good news ever made you feel bad about yourself? Even if you are glad for their happiness, it can be tough to admit that you aren’t 100% thrilled. In high school, some friends of mine decided to do early decision to college. I remember one of them coming to me (I’ll call him Carlos), bouncing up and down as he breathlessly announced that he’d accepted an offer to go to his top school. It was late November senior year, and I hadn’t even finished my college applications yet! I was genuinely glad for him, and I envied his achievement and assurance.

Years later, I know that it’s completely normal to feel down on yourself when someone else’s news makes you feel insufficient. But back then, I felt terribly guilty that Carlos’s college admittance made me feel as though I was behind where I should be. Why couldn’t I be purely happy for him? I felt like a deficient friend and deceitful when I responded, “That’s great!” Even though I meant what I said, I was plagued by jealousy.

Now, I know how to respond when someone’s good news makes me feel threatened. Here’s are the dont’s and do’s:

  • DON’T ignore the good news. The person has entrusted you with something important to them, and you want to honor that.
    • DO show gratitude for their gift of sharing good news with you, by saying something like, “I really appreciate that you wanted to tell me something so important to you!”
  • DON’T put down the news or the person. Belittling someone else won’t make you feel bigger or better, and it will definitely damage your relationship.
    • DO say positive things if you can do so genuinely, like, “You deserve to be proud of yourself!”
  • DON’T beat yourself up for having a mixed reaction. It’s normal to feel ambivalent when good news touches a soft spot on your ego.
    • DO let yourself off the hook by saying to yourself, “It’s human to feel this way. It’s okay.”
  • DON’T say things that you don’t mean. Lying to someone – even if you are trying to make them feel good – is not necessary and will likely be harmful.
    • DO ask yourself, “What sincere, kind things can I say?” and focus on expressing those things to the other person.
  • DON’T try to cover up negative reactions. The other person can likely tell when you’re struggling to be purely happy, so
    • DO be open about what you’re experiencing while keeping the focus on celebrating with them. Try saying, “I’m truly happy for you, and I’m also struggling because it makes me feel like I should measure up to what you’re doing. What I want to focus on, though, is why this is so awesome for you!”

Next time you grapple with an ambivalent reaction to someone’s good news, apply these DO’s and avoid these DON’Ts. How did you feel during the interaction? How did the other person act? By acknowledging your full response – good and bad – and by keeping the emphasis on how you can genuinely support the other person, you will be able to celebrate together. Being the bearer of good news is critical to building the honest, kind, and enjoyable relationships you want to have!