Although there are some substantial individual differences in our need for rewards and recognition, all humans need (and deserve) to feel seen, heard, and understood. Some individuals need more acknowledgement than others, but at a minimum we never want to feel invisible (or worse—disregarded). This is particularly challenging for leaders in a year where intact in-person teams have now become virtual teams often working on a flexible schedule. While we need to be intentional about staying connected with our team members, we can unlock a stronger relationship by placing a high priority on validation.
Validation is a way to acknowledge that you see and hear someone. By extension, the individual who experiences validation often feels understood, appreciated, and valued, which is a cornerstone of engagement. Individuals who lack the validation they seek are more likely to disengage, do the bare minimum, or retaliate. Eventually, these individuals will seek validation elsewhere and take their skills, knowledge, and talent with them.
Here are a few ways to deliver relationship building validation with others:
After the 2020 Super Bowl win, the Kansas City Chiefs organization purchased Super Bowl rings for every player, coach, game-day staff, and full-time employee. This included members responsible for HR, marketing, facility management, community outreach, security, etc. Because while the security team may not have carried the ball across the goal line, the organization can’t function without their critical contribution. The decision to purchase rings for everyone from Cheerleaders to Parking attendants meant that everyone played an important role in the successful season, and the organization wanted to acknowledge that symbolically (and financially). In every project, there are easily recognizable main players and key players that support from behind the scenes. Every contribution is necessary to the overall success of the project, so be sure to acknowledge the role each person plays.
Whole Person Acknowledgement
While we spend 1/3 of our life working, it is our lives outside of work that define us. Even though we do our best to focus during working hours, we shouldn’t be expected to separate who we are as a person from who we are at work. In building a relationship with team members, learning and understanding their passions can provide insight into what drives their behaviors. Getting to know an individual for who they are as a whole person (not just their work life) will create more opportunities for a deeper relationship and stronger trust. Additionally, a leader who has taken time to learn who a team member is on the inside, is more likely to be understanding when challenges happen outside of the workplace.
When a team member brings you a problem, it’s natural to dive straight into problem-solving. And while it’s important to solve the problem, it’s equally important to identify and validate the perspective of the team member first. Simple statements like “I can understand why you’re frustrated” or “I appreciate you bringing this to my attention” will send a signal that you acknowledge the journey they experienced before they brought the problem to you. You value the time they’ve spent trying to solve the problem on their own, and will be a partner going forward.
Wins come in all shapes and sizes. Speak with any career sales person about their very first win, and they’ll share the excitement of closing that first deal. Throughout their career, they’ve surely sold larger and more complex deals, but there’s something special about the first win- no matter how small. It’s important to remember that even small wins can feel important to the individual. Be sure to acknowledge and validate the many wins your team experiences on a daily basis.
Small acts of validation can create meaningful results in building engagement and improving relationships. Take time today to identify ways you can validate and acknowledge each member of your team.