A Coaching Power Tool Created by Chloe Yeo
(Leadership Coach, SINGAPORE)
Validation is the acknowledgment and acceptance of ones’ strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, feelings, actions, and behaviors as understandable.
As social beings, it is human nature to want to be validated and accepted, both by ourselves and by others. Yet, we are often the worst critic of ourselves, not recognizing the good efforts put in nor acknowledging the outcomes achieved. One ends up in a downward spiral, draining out every ounce of energy he has as he denounces each effort and achievement.
The same would apply in our relationship with one another. A liner of validation communicates acceptance, encouragement, and positivity while a criticism communicates disapproval, discrimination, and negativity. Each is a catalyst on its own, delivering rippling effects and impact far more than what we could imagine.
When faced with any challenges, one is not able to move on to resolution if he does not acknowledge and accept what the challenge presents. Acceptance is a vital first step to open up options for solutions. At its core, it would allow one to accept his strengths and weaknesses, enabling him to seek resources that would complement his strengths, optimizing the possibilities to deliver the best or desired outcomes.
On the other hand, the denial of the issue at hand limits the possibilities that one could explore for resolution. Self-criticism kicks in and denounces one’s abilities to overcome challenges, creating a less desired outcome.
Coming from a typical Asian family, validation, acknowledgment, and praise are not the things that my parents are generous with. If I were to score 95 out of 100 for a Math examination, a typical response would be “You could try harder and do even better next time.”. The younger me took this as a criticism and this drove the self-belief that I was not good enough. I started to apply that to everything I do and did not dare to acknowledge my achievements even when I topped the class.
The constant self-critic kicked in and my self-worth was low. As I stepped out to the working society, I lacked self-confidence and set myself back from accomplishing things because I did not think I could deliver challenging workpieces well. It was when I was first validated by a colleague for the role I played in his project that made me realized how I had boxed myself into a tight space. That validation changed my perspective and opened up a whole lot of opportunities that I was either too afraid to try or not aware of.
This power tool is designed to help clients to move on from the limiting beliefs of their true self to acceptance and empowering themselves to achieve desired outcomes in life. The same tool could be used to improve relationships and leadership practice.
While validation may seem more natural to come externally from others, it need not necessarily be so. In fact, self-validation is key to create an emotionally healthy, confident core that enables one to live positively. This is a practice I started doing consciously within my daily journaling and I found it most helpful for myself to create that internal balance I require daily.
Take a moment each day to self-validate and care for our emotional health:
List 1 – 3 tasks or experiences you have in the day, regardless of whether you are satisfied with it or not.
For each of the items listed, write down the following:
- Your thoughts and feelings around it
- One positive statement to recognize your efforts, actions, or behaviors in that task or experience
This daily reflection can also be incorporated into one’s journaling. The action of putting down one’s thoughts and feelings around the tasks or experiences allows oneself to acknowledge and accept these thoughts and feelings. The process normalizes the feelings and sensations felt at each experience. The positive statement moves the individual to the next space of recognizing the efforts, behavior, and actions taken in those experiences. This creates positive energy for the days ahead, fuelling the mental self for future challenges and experiences, at the same time, he would have silenced the negative self-talk that may have gone through his mind during the day.
This exercise creates a mindfulness practice. Over time, one would grow sensitive to his negative self-critic as he goes about in his daily tasks. He would be able to silence the self-critic with his positive statement intuitively and move on with his tasks without spiraling downwards.
In coaching, this tool could be applied to allow the Client to gain awareness of the emotions he had experienced or the criticism he had placed on himself unknowingly. it is important for the Coach to not pass judgment as the Client shares his story. The Coach plays a key role in being present for his Client and listens to the Client’s emotions and underlying beliefs.
Reflecting Client’s Emotions and Energy Level
When the Coach picks up the emotions shared in the Client’s story and takes the right opportunity to reflect on them, he provides a space for the Client to hear about his emotions and an opportunity to accept them. It is important for the Coach not to pass judgment on the Client’s emotions, but accurately reflect the emotions to demonstrate acknowledgment of the Clients emotions. This allows the Client to use the space to validate himself and perhaps, also an opportunity to normalize those feelings if required.
The Coach need not paraphrase extensively but put forth his observations as succinctly as possible and follow up with a question to allow the Client to reflect or explore those observations made. For example, the Coach may say, “You sound really excited when you shared about the plans you have to move your team forward. I also noticed a change in your energy level when you mentioned meeting this particular stakeholder. Your tone of voice seems less chirpy. What is showing up here?”
Reflecting Self-Criticism and Limiting Beliefs
The Client may be unaware of the high expectations and criticism he had placed upon himself. As the Client shares his story, it is key for the Coach to listen to his choice of words, be curious about those choices of words and share back with the Client. By doing so, the Coach allows the Client to gain awareness of his limiting beliefs and creates an opportunity for a mindset shift.
In the same light, the Coach would need to refrain from passing judgment on what he has heard but to reflect the observations made to the Client, to create space for reflections and mindset shifts. Some examples are as follows:
- “I noticed that you mentioned that you should have done this, should have done that a few times. Yet, I also heard that you have taken action at the same time. What does this say to you right now?”
- “Thank you for sharing all the details. That was good self-awareness of your needs. I hear that you needed permission to take some time out in the day, away from work, even to have a proper lunch. What is this permission that you are talking about?”
Validating the Client’s Efforts
The ability to balance external criticism and validation with internal validation is not something that comes naturally to us. It requires us to calibrate over time to enable us to learn and develop. The Coach plays an important role to create that space for the Client to reflect the external inputs that matter to him, and at the same time validate his efforts to enable him to journey on the growth curve.
The latter is especially important when the Client struggles with external criticism. The Coach should not allow the Client to dwell in negativity for long but enable him to reflect sufficiently to identify growth opportunities. He could create opportunities through his questions to validate the Client’s efforts and enable the Client to identify follow-up actions.
For example, the Coach may say, ”You acknowledged that this feedback from your colleague is valid that you could do better in this area. What have you done so far?” and allow the Client to validate his own efforts before following up with “What would be that incremental step that you would like to take next to make this an even better approach in the future?”
By creating that opportunity to allow the Client to validate his efforts, the Client would not be left in the negative space of reflecting on criticism. The Coach creates that positive nudge through the question, setting the Client in the direction for growth and development.
Validation is a tool not limited to a coaching setting or mindfulness practice. This is also a powerful tool in leadership practice. Leaders, ranging from first-time managers to senior leaders, would find that validation and acknowledgment of their team members is a key piece to engage and motivate them.
Even when a job was not well done and did not achieve the desired outcome, leaders should not avoid acknowledging the good efforts that had gone into the project. In fact, by validating those efforts, they inevitably create an opportunity to motivate their team to do better at the next project, as they would be open to hearing what they could do better and committed to enabling the growth of the team as a whole.
The same applies to relationships. The act of validating someone by being present and acknowledging their presence speaks volumes about the value you place on the person and your relationship with him. Further actions of acknowledging the person’s feelings and emotions without judgment only strengthens the relationship further.
Given that coaching is often life coaching after a few sessions, there is value for a Coach to enable the Client to use the same tool in his life through the questions he asks during the sessions. This enables the Client to self-discover how validation could be applied to various aspects in his life, be it work, relationship or self-management.