“YOU. You are awesome. You have an amazing face. You’ve got powerful features, man. Anyone ever tell you that? Listen, you look a little down, and it may seem like sometimes people don’t understand you, but someday, man, someday, people are going to see you for what you really are. Absolutely. You are great.”
So begins an appropriately viral video that made the rounds a few years back. It tells the story of Hugh Newman, the parking validator who took time to validate not only peoples’ parking tickets but the people doing the parking as well. The soundtrack is infectious and the moral even more so: validation is powerful.
As I’ve grown older and gathered more people-watching experience, I’ve tried to focus more on figuring out what makes good communicators, and what makes happy people. How do successful people talk to others? How do successful people interact with their peers? Among other discoveries, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that we all have a choice to make from the moment an interaction begins to the moment we walk away–the choice to validate or not to validate.
Now, in Hugh Newman’s life, the powerfully positive use of validation occurs overtly, and transparently, leaving the viewer with a beautiful, cartoony display of what is light and what is dark. How to uplift and how to diminish. But in real life, those who excel at making the choice to validate do it with so much finesse and quietude that everybody else barely notices.
The choice to validate comes across in a number of patent ways.
1. Decide to engage with another person in the first place.
I know that sounds so silly and so generalized that it’s not a fair rule to put into place, but that first decision can be alternately so buoying or so destructive. I’ve watched as people pretend not to hear their colleagues, and also as people go out of their way to be inclusive in their conversations with others, beyond even what would necessarily be expected of them. We all have Our People, and we all have those in our minds whom we would definitively label Not Our People. However, I’ve become more and more convinced that perhaps even more with those who are outside of Our People, those who we may not necessarily like and with whom we don’t often agree, we must make the choice to tell them in our inclusiveness that they matter anyway. “You count. You are welcome in the conversation. You may absolutely eat with me at lunch. Your opinion is weighty and your voice matters.”
2. Make the choice to validate others by responding positively to their work.
Beyond that initial decision to include others, I’ve noticed it’s hugely important to make the choice to validate others by responding positively to their work. I don’t want to advocate disingenuousness. But sincere, encouraging commentary on our peers’ output can be so galvanizing, not only to the individuals but to the shared workspace as a whole. I have a friend whose entirely unaffected habit it is to vocalize our peers’ successes to them, and tell them bluntly about his admiration for one aspect of their work or another. So delightful! When I first began working for the company we share, I noticed immediately the positive effect he had on the group as a whole, and have since tried to task myself in a similar manner. Now, while I haven’t quite gotten on the same level as my friend, I actively and candidly try to find moments to compliment and admire my colleagues–to the advantage, I figure, of us all and ultimately to the work we’re trying to accomplish. At least it’s a better way to respond to my peers’ work than with quiet criticism and disdain, which in a different mindset is an easy path to take as well.
3. Develop consciousness around choosing to validate others.
But our choices to validate or not to validate others happen in too many ways to properly list in a 1000-word essay. Hugh Newman would agree though: If we want to build a powerful base of confident and successful women within our community, I’m totally convinced that more consciousness should be devoted to choosing to validate those around us. We can do it like Hugh and notice that new haircut, or we can do it by granting credence to our associates’ voices in all the obvious ways and in all the subtle ways alike. But we must be active, and conscious, and earnest in our quest.
I love that the word edify derives from the Latin root aedificare, meaning to build and to strengthen. And I love that we Mormons have so enthusiastically adopted that word into our lexicon, always managing to work it into discussions and onto our lists of goals–I just want to see that word in action. I want to vote that we be particularly conscientious in our edification of others and the spaces we share this week. Let’s choose to be powerful, edifying validators, as individuals, and as a community.
Theoretically we’ll get free parking along the way, too. And me, I’m all about the free parking.