“My mom and I have always been there for each other. We had some tough times, but she was always there for me.” -LeBron James

People tend to emphasize the importance of being there for each other during tough times. However, studies show that how we respond to good news from our friends and loved ones, known as “capitalization”, is often of greater consequence.

Researchers have identified four types of capitalization responses. First, you could ignore your friend’s good news entirely and change the subject. Second, you could choose a negative response, actively challenging the news (e.g., “Really? I can’t believe they gave the promotion to you.”). Third, you might opt for a positive passive response (e.g., “That’s great! I am so happy for you.”). Finally, you could use an active constructive response, congratulating the person and then following up with a question (e.g., “Wow! When do you start? Did they tell you why they selected you?”).

Though the latter two options are technically both congratulatory, only active constructive responding has been shown to strengthen relationships, while passive responses actually tend to be detrimental.

This can be more difficult than it seems. For instance, maybe your friend’s paper was just published on the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway, which you know nothing about. Or maybe your friend is excited about something you don’t necessarily approve of. What can you do in these situations?


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