Tip 6 - Learning to Disagree but Support

Difficult conversations at work? Of course, that’s why we are doing this series. They’re unavoidable. You face them daily. But instead of hurdles they are opportunities for growth. 

This week’s tip is another tool you can use – validation. Validation isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a powerful tool. It acknowledges and respects others’ feelings and viewpoints, bridging gaps in understanding. Imagine transforming tension into trust, misunderstanding into clarity. 

That’s the power of validation. It fosters a culture of respect and understanding. So, let’s unpack how mastering validation can turn challenging dialogues into moments of connection and growth. 

But first, a story:

Brittany Jordan-Arthur is a psychologist at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. One morning, like many parents, she ran into a brick wall of stubbornness with her 7 year old daughter. The girl was scheduled for summer camp, but refused to leave the house.  

Though tempted to dig in her heels and force the issue, Brittany paused, and acknowledged and validated the girl’s feelings about going to camp. After unloading her fears on her mother, the girl decided to go without fighting.

While this is probably a familiar family dynamic, we’ve all experienced something similar in the workplace. You roll out new technology or a process. Goals change. New obstacles arise. Immediately, the grumbling begins and some team members will dig in their heels and refuse to change.

Validation is one tool to change behavior when resistance over workplace issues arise.

Understanding Validation

What is validation, and why does it matter in the workplace? 

At its core, validation is recognizing and accepting another person’s feelings, thoughts, or experiences as legitimate. It’s a way of saying, “I see you. I hear you. What you’re feeling makes sense.” 

This simple act disarms the most emotionally charged situations. It builds bridges, mending gaps where misunderstandings and conflicts often grow. In a work environment, where stress and pressures simmer, validation acts as a cooling balm. It paves the way for improved relationships, smoother interactions, and a significant reduction in conflicts. 

Validating doesn’t mean agreeing but acknowledging the person’s perspective as valid. Imagine a scenario where an employee feels overwhelmed. Acknowledging their stress without immediately jumping to solutions makes them feel supported and understood. That’s validation in action.

The Impact of Validation in the Workplace

Ever noticed the shift in atmosphere when someone feels truly heard? 

Validation does that. It’s like a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room, making team members feel supported, satisfied, and significantly less stressed. 

Consider the opposite: dismissive responses breed resentment and disconnection. A simple validating statement, however, can turn the tide, transforming a potential conflict into a moment of connection. The impact? A more cohesive, energized, and engaged team. 

For instance, when a team member voices concerns over a project’s direction and their leader responds with genuine interest and understanding, it not only addresses the immediate concern but strengthens the team’s bond. Validation doesn’t just affect emotions; it enhances overall team performance, making the workplace a more supportive and productive environment.

Acknowledging the benefits, let’s walk through practical steps to help you implement this concept.

Practical Strategies for Communicating Validation

Verbal Techniques

Validation starts with how we speak. Reflection is key. When you mirror someone’s words back to them, it shows you’re not just listening; you’re understanding. “So, what you’re saying is…” becomes a powerful phrase. 

Then, there’s the art of seeking clarification. Instead of assuming, ask questions. “Can you tell me more about that?” This not only deepens your understanding but also shows genuine interest. 

Normalizing someone’s feelings with phrases like, “It makes sense you’d feel that way,” validates their experience without judgment.

Nonverbal Techniques

Listening goes beyond words. 

Mindful listening means giving your full attention, free from distractions. Your body speaks too. Eye contact, nodding, and leaning in are silent yet strong validators. Then, actions—sometimes a simple gesture like offering a cup of coffee during a tough conversation speaks volumes about your support and empathy.

Together, these strategies weave a fabric of validation, making every interaction richer and more meaningful. Imagine a colleague expressing frustration over a missed deadline. Reflecting their sentiments, seeking to understand their perspective, and offering support through both your words and actions transforms a moment of tension into one of mutual respect and collaboration.

The Art of Using Validation Effectively

Mastering validation is like learning a new language—the language of empathy and understanding. Start small. Practice in daily interactions. Notice the change in how people respond. It’s a skill that grows with use. The key? Authenticity. People sense when validation is genuine versus when it’s just lip service. 

By acknowledging each team member’s concerns and emotions without immediately pushing towards a solution, she defused the situation, opening the door to constructive dialogue and, ultimately, cooperation. 

Brittany’s story illustrates validation isn’t just about managing conflicts; it’s about building a foundation of trust and respect. With practice, this approach becomes second nature, transforming not only how you communicate but also how you connect with others on a deeper level. Remember, the goal isn’t to be right but to understand and be understood.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Navigating the waters of validation comes with its challenges. A common misstep? Rushing to offer solutions. It’s natural to want to fix things, but remember, validation is about acknowledging feelings, not immediately solving problems. This rush inadvertently signals their feelings are problems to be fixed, not experiences to be understood.

Another pitfall is offering validation that feels insincere. “I understand how you feel” rings hollow if your tone or body language suggests indifference. Authenticity is crucial; it’s the difference between making someone feel truly seen and making them feel brushed off.

To avoid these traps, practice patience. Allow the other person to fully express themselves before responding. Focus on understanding their perspective, not on the clock or your next meeting. Genuine validation requires time and presence. 

Remember, the goal is to create a space where people feel safe to express themselves. This doesn’t mean every conversation will be comfortable, but it ensures even difficult discussions are built on a foundation of respect and empathy.

How to Validate without Agreement

We mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating. A common misconception about validation is it equates to agreement. Not so. You can validate someone’s perspective without endorsing their viewpoint. 

It’s about recognizing the validity of their feelings and experiences within their context. This distinction is crucial in maintaining integrity and honesty in your interactions.

For example, when a colleague expresses frustration with a policy you support, validating their feelings doesn’t mean you’re conceding your stance. Instead, you’re acknowledging their experience as real and significant to them. “I see how that policy feels limiting to you,” offers validation without agreement.

Adopting language that distinguishes between understanding and agreement is key. Phrases like, “I hear what you’re saying,” or, “Your feelings are understandable,” bridge this gap effectively. They communicate empathy and respect for the other’s viewpoint, fostering an environment where open, honest dialogue flourishes without the pressure of conformity. This nuanced approach encourages diversity of thought, enriching workplace culture and collaboration.

Embracing Validation

Validation, as we’ve seen, is more than a tool; it’s a lens through which we view our interactions, a bridge to deeper understanding and stronger connections. Whether it’s Brittany Jordan-Arthur’s story of a morning standoff resolved with empathy or the daily dance of navigating team dynamics, the thread of validation weaves through, strengthening the fabric of our relationships.

So, what’s your next step? Perhaps it’s a conversation you’ve been putting off, a moment to reflect on your communication style, or a commitment to embrace validation more fully in your interactions. Whatever it is, know the path forward is paved with growth, understanding, and the potential to transform not just your workplace, but the very essence of your leadership.

This is your invitation to step into a leadership role not just about guiding and directing, but about understanding and connecting. It’s an opportunity to build a culture where everyone feels valued, heard, and understood—a culture not only achieves its goals but does so with a sense of unity and purpose. Your journey with validation begins now. How will you take that first step?

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