By Lisa Gschwandtner
After 25 years of interviewing thousands of people about every topic under the sun, what has billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey learned about human nature? Everyone wants to be validated.
In a fireside chat about leadership and career at Stanford University, she revealed that everyone she interviews asks her the same question at the end of the conversation. “Was that okay? How did I do?” This pattern holds true for the very famous and powerful as well as ordinary citizens. “Everybody says that, and now I just wait for it,” she says.
Winfrey says that we all share three basic concerns when we interact with others.
1. Did you see me?
2. Did you hear me?
3. Did what I said mean anything to you?
“That’s what everything’s about,” she says.
If you want to start becoming the kind of leader who validates others, you must first understand that validation is different from praise or positive feedback.
In psychological terms, validation is not about agreeing with others or approving of what they’ve said or done. Rather, it’s about accepting the person – no matter what the person is saying or doing. As Karyn Hall, Ph.D., author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person: Finding Peace When Your Emotions Overwhelm You, puts it, “Validation is a way of communicating that the relationship is important and solid even when you disagree on issues.”
Here are four ways you can lead salespeople by validating them.
1. Give the person your undivided attention.
The first rule of validation is to listen wholeheartedly to whoever is talking. In other words, show the salesperson that you’re not simply waiting for your turn to speak or keeping one eye on your email while he or she talks.
This can be a tough practice for leaders who are used to multitasking and juggling many priorities at once. If it helps, think of how disheartening it is when you talk with someone – whether a client or your own boss – who’s constantly texting or interrupting your discussion to take phone calls. Doesn’t feel great, does it? When a rep comes to you to discuss something, set aside all distractions and really tune in to what he or she is saying.
2. Pause to restate and reflect.
Sometimes sales leaders assume that reps want them to provide immediate answers and solutions. While it’s true that your role is to help and give direction, be aware that sometimes salespeople just need someone to listen to them so they can get some perspective on their issues.
A simple pause to restate what you’ve heard shows that you’ve been listening actively and helps the salesperson hear what he’s said. For example, you could say, “So what I’m hearing is that you’ve sent three emails to the prospect this week and received only one reply in return, which you found vague and confusing.” This simple restatement makes the salesperson feel validated.
3. Notice and remark on the person’s emotional state.
Sometimes people are unaware of the way they’re feeling. This can prolong their distress and make problems more complicated as they’re unable to separate facts from emotions. If you say something like, “What I’m hearing right now is that you’re feeling frustrated and anxious,” you help the person start to identify his or her emotions and gain clarity.
Notice that you are not necessarily saying it is right or wrong to feel frustrated and anxious; you are simply making an observation. This creates greater openness and trust. Because you’ve validated the salesperson, he or she now feels safe in communicating with you in an authentic fashion.
4. Commit to what you have in common.
Again, validation is about underscoring the importance of the person and of your relationship with the person. It is entirely possible for a leader to disagree with someone and still validate him or her.
For example, it might annoy you when a salesperson complains that entering information into CRM is a waste of time. You might be tempted to explode and say something like, “Quit being so lazy! This is something I told you to do, so you’d better start doing it!” However, this is not going to leave the salesperson feeling validated (and probably won’t get the behavior you want, either).
Instead, validate the person by focusing on a commitment the two of you share. In this case, your shared commitment is to the success of the salesperson and to the sales organization as a whole. Accordingly, you might choose to say something like, “I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you’re being asked to do something that wastes your time. Here are three ways you and I both benefit when you enter data into CRM, and here are three ways your actions then benefit the entire company.”
If the salesperson continues to repeat unacceptable behaviors, then you might eventually have to end the relationship. However, if it comes to that point, you’ll be able to do so with compassion – knowing you’ve always practiced the principles of validation.
For more insight about life and leadership from Oprah Winfrey, order her book, What I Know For Sure.
Lisa Gschwandtner is Editorial Director at Selling Power and Media Manager of the Sales 2.0 Conference. Find her on Twitter @SellingPower20.