The Most Important Relationship Building Skill You Haven't Heard About

Barry Davret

Image licensed from Shutterstock // fizkes

As a quiet person, forging relationships proved troublesome for me. I read all the self-help books, which recycled the same advice: show kindness, ask questions about the other person, smile, avoid blabbering about yourself. I followed this advice diligently, but it never worked for me.

My breakthrough came five years ago after attending what was otherwise a mundane training session on giving recognition to coworkers. It was forgettable boilerplate speak. But it triggered a memory of a sales lesson I had learned ten years earlier.

The universal human desire

My mentor at the time also spoke of recognition, but he took it a step further. People crave attention, but it means much more to them when you give it for things they take pride in and things they value. We call this validation. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as such.

Recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile

I crave validation, and so do you. Everyone does. If that weren’t true, we wouldn’t cheer after getting “likes” on social media or celebrate when someone tells us they enjoy reading our work. Validation is the universal desire we all share. It’s neither a character flaw nor a weakness.

It’s such an intense desire; we often look the other way when someone offers insincere validation. Maybe the other person didn’t get anything out of our efforts, but they felt compelled to show support by liking, clapping, or praising just because of a pre-existing relationship.

Of course, we prefer sincere, real validation over fake praise, but we’ll settle for sympathy kudos if it’s the best we can do.

As a writer, I can say with surety, the most satisfying form of validation takes you by surprise, and it comes from an unexpected source.

Validation enhances your likability

Relationships thrive when we like each other. That much is obvious. But how do we get to the point of liking? Growing research confirms that we like people who are similar to us.

That doesn’t mean we can’t engage in relationships with people with clashing personality traits. Research and personal experience prove the more we know about someone, the less that similarity plays a role.

The more you know someone, the more you rely on their character to determine how much you like them.

Along with showing kindness, generosity, and a sincere interest in others, you build that feeling of liking by offering sincere validation. But it’s not as simple as pandering to others. It requires skill and keen observation.

How to give sincere validation

We often dispense validation out of a sense of obligation to a friend or to support someone who might be struggling. Your friend craves it so much, they’ll even prompt you for it. You oblige, of course, because you understand the need as well.

But that’s like a meal without a main dish. We need more. Your friends, family, and peers deserve more. It doesn’t take much effort to get there.

1) Do your homework

Get to know, really know, your friends, acquaintances, and peers. Pay attention to what they like, dislike, and the skills for which they pride themselves. I crave recognition for the skills I take pride in, and I’m sure you do too.

That’s why you must keep your antenna up and sharpen your observation skills. When someone says, “That’s my specialty” or talks about a particular interest of theirs, they’re telling you what’s important to them. Repetition is another sign that the subject is of importance to your friend or peer. Record these learnings in a spreadsheet, at least when you meet someone new. If nothing else, you'll impress them with your ability to remember.

2) Demonstrate you mean it

Instead of giving validation by way of effusive praise, allow them to strut their stuff. Instead of telling someone how valuable they are, demonstrate it.

Have you ever asked a friend for a restaurant recommendation? Did he badger you to hear about your experience? Did it make him happy when you told him it was terrific?

If you ask someone for a recommendation, you implicitly recognize their expertise. You put your trust in their judgment. “Kim, we’re going out for an anniversary dinner. You know the scene. Where should we go?”

Do you have a friend you trust enough to tell a secret? When you share a secret, you validate someone’s trustworthiness. “Jane, I need to share something personal. I’m telling you because I know the information won’t leak.”

This technique works exceptionally well in group settings. Recognize someone for their expertise in front of their peers or friends, and you’ll have a bestie for life.

3) Look for spontaneous opportunities

Let’s suppose you’ve just created a piece of art or completed a creative essay. You’re proud of your creation, and you want recognition for your accomplishment, but none comes. So, you reach out to peers and friends and invite them to take a look.

Validation comes, but it’s prompted by your ask. It satisfies the need, but it feels lacking. You had to ask for it. Validation triggers much warmer feelings when it comes unexpectedly. Someone went out of their way to recognize you without any prompting.

Get in the habit of recognizing people for doing things that positively impact you, even if you don’t know the person.

We expect validation from our friends and family. It’s an unwritten rule. But it feels so much better when it comes from someone we least expect at a time we least expect. It may even lead to the beginning of a dialogue and even friendship.

4) Give specifics

Specificity adds an air of legitimacy and sincerity. When you relay obscure details that generally go unnoticed, you demonstrate the significance of the recipient’s efforts. The recipient of your praise feels noticed.

Imagine getting an email from a fan of your work that reads something like this.

“Dude, love your work. All of it.”

Nobody will complain, but compare it to something like this.

“I implemented your KIP strategy for dealing with anxiety — the one referenced on page 234–240 — and in the last 30 days, I’ve done [insert list of accomplishments].”

It demonstrates that you not only appreciate their work but also used it and experienced meaningful results. That’s validation at its best.

All you need to know

A cynic might call this manipulative, but that would be a misguided conclusion. Giving sincere validation fills a basic human need. It requires effort to learn about the other individual and find something worthy enough to recognize.

It’s one of the things we do to support each other. Making a habit out of it will help you create and maintain relationships.

  • Do your homework
  • Demonstrate you mean it
  • Look for spontaneous opportunities
  • Give specifics

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Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. My work can be found in publications across the internet

Summit, NJ

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