I’ve been thinking about what’s missing in our relationships (which led me to write previous articles, “The Big Miss” and “The Art of Blanking Out” among others). Another miss I am acutely aware of lately is validation.
Validation – Finding the truth of something; authenticating something or someone; acknowledgment, recognition and acceptance of another person’s internal experience.
Invalidation – Negating or dismissing behavior; To ignore, nullify, reject, or dismiss one’s feelings or needs.
Can you relate with any of these unintentional invalidations:
- A colleague writes off my idea as incorrect or ineffective.
- A friend dismisses my concern with “Oh well, this stuff happens.”
- A well-meaning boss disregards or misses my need for empathy (understanding; someone to “get me”) by offering, “You shouldn’t feel that way. She didn’t mean anything by it.”
When I feel invalidated or unacknowledged, I notice how easily I can go to that primal “preparing to fight or flee” place. I either want to defend myself, justify my idea, or withdraw from the conversation by appearing agreeable, “yeah you’re right, it’s no big deal.” The intensity of my fight or flight response depends on how important the situation or issue feels at the time. And I’ll admit, there are surely times when an outside observer would deem my reaction to be out of proportion with the “offense.”
Validation is a fundamental human need. The more importance we place on a particular relationship (i.e.: spouse, boss, parent, mentor) the more we seek that person’s validation. And when we receive it, we experience that warm wash of feeling understood and accepted, which fosters trust, connection, and loyalty. Important qualities within our relationships with direct reports as well as peers (not to mention family members).
Needless to say, validating others is an important tool for leaders to become skilled in and to put into regular practice. With that in mind, here are five ideas to support your efforts and amp up your listening.
- Focus and Listen
Slow down, breathe, place your full awareness on the other person and work to quiet your inner chatter. Listen at Level 2…What’s that mean? Read this.
- Start with “I hear you.”
To be clear, validation is not agreement. When I validate someone, it does not mean I am agreeing with what he or she said. I am validating the person, not the content of the conversation. Literally saying, “I hear you” or “I’m listening. Is there more?” sends a powerful message to the other, letting them know that he or she matters to you, that you’re paying attention and that you care about their experience of the situation. And we can do this, even when we DON’T agree with the person’s viewpoint. Being validated in this way has more impact on the relationship than getting agreement.
- Accurately reflect or restate what the person has said.
“I hear that you’re looking forward to getting started on xyz project!” or “I hear you saying that you need more time to finish xyz.”
- Reflect and restate what’s unspoken, what is being communicated non-verbally. Acknowledge and name the emotion(s) you are sensing.
“Sounds like you’re angry.” “You sound excited!” “I’m sensing that you feel annoyed or frustrated. Is that accurate?”
- Be genuine and sincere.
Allow yourself to see the person, the human being, before you, and to care about him or her. In order to listen with an open heart and a blank mind, we must set aside what is past and stay fully present.
Our feelings and perceptions are very real for us, even when they don’t make sense to another person. When someone is frustrated, sad, elated, angry, etc, understanding is infinitely more valuable – and more fruitful – than any amount of information to convince them to feel otherwise.
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