- People love to score points and demonstrate their superiority.
- It’s a common communication and interpersonal mistake.
- It costs nothing to highlight when people are right. Validating others is good for everyone.
"You're wrong!" When we hear these words from a friend, boss or partner, it rarely feels good.
If you're like most people, a surge of dejection is followed by a swift injection of irritation, resentment, and even anger. A latent dislike of the offender builds. In your mind, they're silently and slowly cancelled.
But how often do you tell others they're wrong?
Most of us do it more than we think and more than we should. After all, it makes you feel good about yourself.
Of course, you may think you're more subtle and diplomatic in your delivery. Indeed, that may be true. You might disguise it as "I'm not sure I agree," or "Here's another way to look at that" or "It's just my opinion, but ..." Parents and colleagues communicate these sentiments more obliquely than the blunt force of Twitter followers. But it’s the same thing.
As a parent, teacher or leader, the cost of liberally critiquing others is high. A fleeting moment of ego-stroking superiority for you becomes an esteem-stunting experience for others. It’s often you who pays a hidden price.
Of course, healthy disagreement is essential in any environment. But that's not the same as 50 ways of saying, "You're wrong!" It's a skill many have mastered across industry and social media.
Now imagine your friend, boss or partner saying, "You're right." And what's more, they declare it publicly.
You bounce. That spring in your step lasts for days! What's more, you feel more appreciated and become a happiness super spreader. That single statement is positively contagious and carries a force multiplier effect. The longitudinal Framingham Heart Study shows that regular interaction with happy people increases the probability of your own happiness by 15%. Moreover, this then affects others by a knock-on 10%
It's a strategy Frank Maguire of Federal Express used to shift the sales culture. In his book, You're The Greatest, he recounts how this phrase validates people and improves the P&L more than we think.
Maguire claims motivation lasts a short time, but validation lasts a lifetime.
So why don't more parents and powerholders engage in positive reinforcement? After all, society demands greater compassion and empathy. In some cases, people are simply unaware of the adverse impact of their words and the contrasting power of positive statements. In other cases, it's a form of protection and self-approbation. If you're right, does that mean I'm wrong? Well, it might.
And so what? Everything in perspective. The economy won't crater, your relationship won't collapse, and the stock price won't crash. Yet many remain disproportionate in their thinking.
"You're right" may well be the converse of "I'm wrong," but this application is more beneficial for you long-term.
If you boost the level of validation, you're guaranteed more friends, more influence and more life satisfaction.
Why? Because research shows that likability, credibility, and influence are psychologically connected.
How to Validate Others
Naturally, we can’t validate others continuously. For one thing, it would be as exhausting as disingenuous. Moreover, there would be little appetite for others to learn. Nevertheless, a better balance is needed as businesses and individuals struggle with the contemporary cost-of-living crisis and inflationary pressures. It's a balance we need to get right.
As a behavioral scientist, I recommend several ways to validate others.
1. Separate Features From Individuals
The 17th-century philosopher Blaise Pascal suggests one way to convince someone they're wrong is to tell them they're right. Separate the elements of the argument from the individual. Even if someone’s idea, performance, or offer is defective, choose aspects that are directionally on track and give a qualified "You're right about X." Anyone can applaud some aspect even if they disagree with the basic concept.
2. Petition External Opinion
Don't try to win each encounter. Ask yourself if it's worth pointing out flaws to other parties. Sometimes it isn't. Would your relationship survive? Show how you value differing opinions instead. Taking advice is better than giving it after all. People will feel more valued, and give you another chance to declare "You're right."
3. Manage Perceived Feedback
Sometimes, others may be wrong but it’s how you tell them. There’s always more offence taken than given so help others reinterpret and manage perceived feedback sensitively when delivering a message.
4. Invite Counterarguments
Be open to different or even counterintuitive ideas. It might just be that a point of clarification transforms a bad idea into a good idea. Modifying your perspective allows you to confirm, "You're right." People never forget how you make them feel — and they feel good when validated.
Despite its power, validation is an underutilized tool in the home and the workplace. The good news is you can apply it instantly. Words matter. And in this case, it only takes two to change others' moods and mindsets.
As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."