A key trait of exceptional individuals is their capacity to validate others.
A few weeks ago, during an online session with a client, we were interrupted by his son entering his living room holding up a drawing. “Look dad, look what I’ve made.” Slightly irritated, my client responded: “Go away… Daddy is in a meeting.” “Leave daddy alone, I’m busy!” the father barked when the child persisted. The child’s shoulders slumped, his chin came down and then the tears started. The crying interrupted proceeding any further and it was unfortunate because, all the child needed was to be acknowledged if only for a moment and while it was a business meeting – most children that age can’t discern they are interrupting a virtual event so why not be more understanding? If he had taken a moment to pay attention to his child and the drawing, things would have turned out differently and I certainly would not have minded.
We say that a moment of timely validation, builds a mountain of happiness. But it is not just at home. A lot of managers forget to truly connect with their team through the power of validation. This has always been a point of concern and online and remote working has only made this even more important. Perhaps more than ever whether working from home, at the office, or in a hybrid environment, validation is key to creating positive feelings as well as social harmony.
A lot of complaints heard from employees we have interviewed in our coaching classes is that they are under the impression that their manager “doesn’t understand” or worse, “rarely cares.” The “boss doesn’t know how hard it is,” is a common refrain. It is a common complaint because there is often a failure to validate the conditions or challenges the employee faces or to truly value the work they have performed.
Managers and CEOs who don’t walk the floor, or who have no appreciation for what it is like to work from home where children are present and there are added responsibilities, make those who work for them feel they are not valued.
Many employees don’t dare to tell their manager about the struggles they encounter for fear they will be perceived as inefficient or unable to multitask, knowing that having a job is a privilege and not a right. They are grateful to have work—but they also feel exhausted, challenged, and too often, less than appreciated.
One of my clients was working double-time because her colleague got sick, she was homeschooling two children, living in a small apartment, and trying to do everything to help the company. She didn’t mind being flexible, she didn’t mind working hard and working longer hours; what she minded was that there was a lack of acknowledgement on the part of managers. “The only thing I wished for is that once the manager would have said: Thank you for being so flexible, for taking on this added burden.”
It should not be that hard to validate others and yet it is for too many. Over the decades, we have heard managers say, “Why should I? They are getting paid to do their job. I’m not their mother…” while others are shocked, “Why didn’t they tell me about their struggles?” “They know how to contact me if there’s something they want to get off their chest!”
Yes, we all have a responsibility to communicate, but we also have a responsibility to observe, and that is especially so for supervisors and managers (Navarro 2021) . Keeping an eye on the needs of the “troops” goes back further than Alexander the Great checking in on his soldiers every night. In 2003 Stanford professors Pamela Hinds and Diane Bailey found that “Out of sight, out of sync,” which is a good way of saying, to know and to understand we must seek out and uncover.
So, how do we stay in touch, in sync, on the same page, and validate what others are going through? Here are some tips from our experience:
1) Truly ask how people are doing
Ask what’s going on in their lives but also about what is challenging them the most? Ask if you can help? Try not to talk about objectives but talk about everything to make those objectives more easily achievable.
2) Schedule one-on-one meetings.
Some of your employees might be reluctant to talk about how they are doing in online team meetings or with everybody present. One on one meetings or phone calls could be helpful to make them feel more at ease. Use the opportunity to let them know you are ready to help, are there issues, how is the family and so forth.
3) Listen to what they say and what they give importance to.
A client just this week was appreciative of his manager because, “It felt like I could vent and speak my mind openly.” If you are a manager let the employee’s priority become your priority in the conversation.
4) Schedule non-work time on the clock so people can run out and get things done or they can take a break.
A “coffee call” just to see how an employee is doing for five minutes has huge dividends. After a big project, give employees a few days extra to stand-down and relax.
5) Encourage socialization
Create an informal care system of buddy’s where people share information, vent if they need to and help each other out so that they don’t feel alone.
6) Do something extra
Send a card with a sincere thank you or send a small gift. One of my clients indirectly asked what everybody’s favorite lunch was and ordered individual meals for everyone. And even for one mother a pizza for her and her kids while she worked from home.
As a manager you not only manage objectives, you also manage people. The validation process is part of management, it is not optional. And so, when there is a high degree of pressure or turmoil as we saw during the 2020 pandemic, people need to be reassured and their concerns need to be recognized. As I have often said, “Failure to validate a person, invalidates their humanity” (Navarro Codex 1984-2021). Affirm what your employees go through and validate their challenges.
Working remote is in some ways here to stay. What the future of work will look like may change but one thing will never change, the human need for recognition and validation. It only takes a moment in time, but for a child or a hard-working adult, that moment of recognition validates everything they have been working at and that makes for a more contented individual. You can make someone’s day just by taking time to listen and by saying: “I really appreciate what you do.”
This post was co-authored with Anne-Maartje Oud. Anne-Maartje Oud is the founder and director of The Behaviour Company, a world-wide consultancy on best-practices and human behavior.
Hinds, Pamela & Bailey, Diane. (2003). Out of Sight, Out of Sync: Understanding Conflict in Distributed Teams. Organization Science. 14. 615-632. 10.1287/orsc.14.6.615.24872.
Navarro, Joe with Toni Sciarra Poynter. 2021. Be Exceptional. New York: Harper Collins.
Navarro, Joe. 1984-2021. Navarro Codex - Unpublished Manuscript of Observations.