Communication Central

How communication with others--and ourselves--leads to success.

The Theory of Social Validation

Why you're not great until someone says you are.

I recently listened to an episode of Psych Files, a pod-cast created by psychologist Michael Britt. His guest, Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., was discussing her book Neuro Web Design and more specifically how our brains operate when we look at web pages.

At one point they began to discuss Amazon.com and Britt mentioned how quickly we evaluate the worth of a book based upon the reviews of other customers. Weinschenk had a very interesting response. She referenced Robert Chialdini's ideas on social proof (theory of social validation) and stated:

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"When we are uncertain about what to do we will look to other people to guide us. And we do this automatically and unconsciously."

Of course this is not a new concept and I'm sure most users of the Internet use others' judgments to help them in making certain choices. I learned a long time ago that I could waste a lot of time and in some cases money if I ignored recommendations by fellow consumers on sites such as Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.

But let's go beyond the Internet, how often do we apply this principle to our own lives? How often do we try to influence the opinions that people make about us or the things we do that depend on others' recognition of us for success? No matter the field, if we look to progress, we have to depend on people to say we are not only capable, but the exact person to fulfill a need. To go a step further, we need gatekeepers to say this.

Hence, no matter how long we have studied, practiced or otherwise prepared, if we haven't received the proper social validation we may be just spinning our wheels. A great example of this can be found in the recounting of events by Michael Jordan. In his 2009 acceptance speech, for induction into the (Naismith Memorial) Hall of Fame, Jordan relayed that as a freshman at UNC, his coach Dean Smith was featured in Sports Illustrated. In the interview, Smith listed only four starters on the team and neglected to mention him. Jordan was livid and said that this fueled his desire to demonstrate to Smith and others how great a player he was. Jordan also stated that this need for acknowledgement (read validation) fueled him throughout his college and NBA years. Michael Jordan knew he was a great player, but he also knew the benefits of being recognized as a great player. He wanted and needed both.

In the final analysis, sometimes we have done enough; we are more than ready and need no further skills to make it to the next level. We just need to make sure the right people know this and that they signal to others that it's safe to jump on the bandwagon. That signal may be all that's needed to make things happen!

Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. is the author of Super You! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential! You can also check out his page on Twitter.

Bakari Akil II, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of communication at Florida State College of Jacksonville.

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