In my last blog post, I addressed love in the workplace. If you didn’t read that post, you are probably thinking it had to do with romantic relationships at work. It didn’t. Rather, the post addressed how validating people would cure the epidemic of loneliness that is pervasive in our society and at work. In the end, validation is a form of love—agape, as opposed to eros.
So in this post, I ask the question, “How do you validate someone?”
The answer is that you listen to them. You listen with the intent to understood them. You listen to the point that they feel understood. That is how you validate another person.
Listening with the intent to understand another person is not so easy. Frankly, it’s easier to have them take a personality test. There are plenty of them out there. That way you’ll know if they’re a blue or yellow personality type, an INFJ or ENFP. Perhaps they are dominate or aspiring. You’ll know if they prefer public or private gestures of appreciation. Are they analyzers or strategist? Just read the test results and you will know. But you won’t know them.
These tests give a false sense of knowing someone. They let you put another person in a neat little box called “personality type.” Then all you have to do to “know” them is read that personality type’s description. The thing is, no, you don’t actually know them. You just know how they measured up on whatever test you administered to them. Although the results may be true in a statistical aggregated way for a group of individuals who gave similar answers, you still don’t really know the individual. And that, my friend, will not do if you truly want to understand someone.
I am not against these tests. I actually enjoy taking them and reading my results. Like horoscopes in the newspaper (if that’s still even a thing), they tend to be true in a general kind of way. Some hits, some misses. I can tell you though, you will never really understand me by reading the results of one of those tests. Nor do they make me actually feel understood for that matter. But they are fun. They are just a poor substitute for actually getting to know someone. Let’s be honest, the kind of listening that is needed to understand another person is tough.
It means you have to let down your own guarded self, drop your personal agenda, and be—dare I say it—vulnerable to another person’s needs. That scares us. It exposes us to our own needs. So we make excuses why we can’t validate someone else. We pretend it isn’t professional to understand someone on such a personal level. We tell ourselves things like, “They will expect me to fix them, maybe coddle them or agree with them,” or, “I can’t solve someone else’s problems.” (I know, you have enough of your own, we all do.) We also make the mistake of thinking that by validating someone for who they are it’s the same as condoning behavior we may disagree with—especially in the context of work. But that reasoning is a false dichotomy. We don’t have to agree or embrace their worldview, lifestyle or values to understand them.
Think back to a time, and hopefully you can, when someone really listened to you and understood you. If you are having trouble thinking of a time, one, I feel very sorry for you. Two, have you ever seen a therapist? A good therapist is a good (and expensive) listener who knows how to validate you without taking on your problems. I am not saying you need to be a therapist. Most people don’t want you to fix them—really, but we all crave for someone to validate us. How did it make you feel to be heard? How life changing was it for you? To be heard and understood is a rare gift. This is unfortunate. So many problems would be solved at work and in society by this “simple” act of understanding someone.
We are experiencing a great deal of unrest in the world right now. Protests and riots. Tweets and posts. Why? One group or another is asking and demanding what? To be heard. To be loved really. And we should figure out how we can make that happen. If this was the sixties, you might be thinking, “what kind of drug-induced love-in is he really advocating here?” The problem with such ventures at the time, however, were that they had nothing to do with another person. They were trips into pleasures and discoveries of the self, not journeys to understand others. No drugs, sex or rock-and-roll is needed for what I am advocating—just the death of your ego.
As long as we are human, we will never stop needing to be heard. And should we ever get heard, well, the world will finally change. So please listen, because someone needs you to hear them.
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