The Power of Validation in the Workplace

by | Mar 10, 2021 | Company Culture, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

We constantly underestimate the value of words to build up or tear down.

While this is certainly true in everyday life, it is especially true in the workplace. And it is one of the reasons why I, as a serial entrepreneur, embrace the idea of bringing my employees together at least once a week to talk about their successes. It is validating.

Last month, a recent study out of Ohio State University (OSU) supports this practice. And not just once a week, but on an ongoing basis. Telling your employees something as simple as “I understand why you feel that way” can reinforce both their initiative and confidence.

In quantifying the value of positive reinforcement, the OSU researchers asked participants to remember a real-life incident that made them angry. When researchers did not show support or understanding for the anger participants were describing, the storytellers showed declines in positive emotions, the researchers summarized. But when the researchers validated what the participants were saying, their positive emotions were protected and stayed the same.

Similarly, study participants reported dips in their overall mood as they recalled the anger-provoking event, and only those who were validated reported a recovery of mood back to their starting point.

This speaks to the value of focusing on protecting positivity, according to Jennifer Cheavens, senior author of the study and a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University.

“We have underestimated the power of positive emotions. We spend so much time thinking about how to remedy negative emotions, but we don’t spend much time thinking about helping people harness and nurture positive emotions,” Cheavens said.

“It’s really important to help people with their depression, anxiety, and fear, but it’s also important to help people tap into curiosity, love, flexibility, and optimism. People can feel sad and overwhelmed, and also hopeful and curious, in the same general time frame.”

The full study, which was published online in the Journal of Positive Psychology, uncovered findings that are relevant for all relationships, she added.

“When you process negative emotions, that negative affect gets turned on. But if someone validates you, it keeps your positive affect buffered. Validation protects people’s affect so they can stay curious in interpersonal interactions and in therapy. Adding validation … helps people feel understood, and when we feel understood we can receive feedback on how we also might change.”

The results of such a practice are a healthy and profitable workplace, something all entrepreneurs can aspire to.