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Executive communications expert Dianna Booher teaches how to react to a friend's success.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites can be intimidating—especially when you have as many successful colleagues, clients, and friends as I do. No, I don’t mean the technology. Seeing stories of success splashed on every page and tweeted every hour can be overwhelming if you yourself lack self-confidence or have fallen into a temporary career slump.

The temptation is to envy, withdraw, and fall into a negative mindset about your own strengths, accomplishments, and goals. First thing you know, you’re communicating that negative outlook even to your friends and family.

Should you have a sinking feeling that might be happening to you, here are a few reminders to change that outlook. And even if you’re one of the world’s most confident people—maybe especially if you’re one of the world’s most confident people—these tips will help you connect with others in a more memorable way.

Show Pleasure in the Success of Others 

Envy rears its ugly head prominently in silence. When someone tells of their good fortune or another person brings up that achievement in your presence, join in with your commendation. “It sounds like things are going well for you,” or, “That’s terrific. You should have told us sooner,” or, “Wow. I can say I knew you when . . .,” or, “Hey, that’s difficult to accomplish. I’ve tried it myself with very little success. Tell me how you did it.” While lifting others into the limelight, you’ll also raise yourself in the process. That’s called class.

Let Others Impress You

My husband, who has mastered this principle, always has more advice than he can use on fishing. He simply lets others know that he respects their expertise about bait, gear, fishing depth, and the best places to go, and they’re glad to show him how much they really know. For hours. At personal cost. People enjoy being helpful when they know the admiration is genuine.

Examples: “Could you help me out of this mess I’ve created for myself?” “You have far more experience in these situations than I do. What would you suggest?” “I know this seems simple to you, but it’s complex to me.” “Thanks for making me look good with this project. You did an excellent job.” All such expressions give credit where it’s due and make people feel good about themselves.

People like to talk about themselves and their interests, so encourage them to do so. Let them know that you admire or respect them for some insight, talent, skill, philosophy, attitude, or possessions. We like those who like us and pay attention to us. On the other hand, we don’t appreciate those who say, by word, tone, silence, or body language, “So what? No big deal. I’m underwhelmed.”

Think About the Imposition and the Options Before You Ask for a Favor

On the other end of the spectrum from those who try to ignore a colleague’s success are those who react with a hand out: “Now that you’re successful, what can you do for me?”

Consider the following questions before you ask for a favor: Is the favor a real imposition? Are you asking the other person to spend time, effort, or money that you wouldn’t be willing to spend on the project yourself? Will the other person say yes out of guilt? Are you giving the other person an option to say no without feeling guilty? Only a yes to the last question qualifies you to ask the favor.

Don’t Presume on a Relationship; Ask Permission

Friends will love you even more for the courtesy you’ve shown when you don’t impose on the relationship. Use the following when the occasion calls for it: “Do you agree that we should do X?” “Will it be an inconvenience if . . . ?” “Don’t let me speak for you—do you agree that it would be a feasible next step for me to . . . ?” “Do you have a problem with my doing X? I can certainly wait a few months if you think that’s best.” Never substitute relationship for thoughtfulness.

Most people are not envious of those significantly more successful in some endeavor than they themselves—Bill Gates, Mother Theresa, Miss America, Eli Manning. They are envious only of those who are slightly so. If you want to connect as you communicate, make it a goal to be impressed more often than to impress.

Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 46 books, published in 26 countries and 20 languages.  Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised Edition. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Dianna and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training programs to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in oral, written, interpersonal, and organizational communication.

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15 thoughts on “Communication Skills: How Do You React to a Friend’s Success?”

  1. Most of my friends celebrate one another’s success with gusto. We think that their success is our success. Of course there are always a couple holdouts, but true friends are almost as excited as you are for your accomplishments.

  2. I am always delighted to read about the successes of my friends and often let them know just how happy I am for them. On the flip side, I think I correct a lot of spelling and grammar errors too.

  3. I’m always happy to hear of my friends’ successes and like to congratulate them through various networks.

    I liked your husband’s technique about letting others impress you. Sounds like a great way to get some free consulting advice!

    Dianna, can I say “I knew you when”? :)

  4. It is sad that this happens but it very often does, great advice you give to help those going through this get past it. I am always happy for the successes of others, everyone has different talents and it is always fun to share the joy of people’s accomplishments.

  5. With a heartfelt congratulations and, hopefully, celebration support. We all need to be noticed and letting someone know that you see their success and that it makes you happy is truly nurturing.

    1. Everyone deserves friends like Thea, Sally, Karla, and Mitch. As their comments posted here suggest, true friends have your interest at heart. The world would be a better place if everyone could rid themselves of envy.

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