Dave Blanchard of the Og Mandino Leadership Institute teaches a concept called “Intrinsic Validation”, which is a powerful tool for conversations when you want to build trust in a relationship. It centers on having empathy, leaving your agenda and personal insecurities outside, and trying to deeply understand and serve another person.
Here are some pointers to help you improve this practice:
You are stepping into their world
You’ll leave your suitcase at the door with your ego, your sales goals, your need to be right, and anything else that will hinder you from truly listening. If they tell a story and you have a similar one to share, resist the urge to do so.
Dave likes to explain it this way. When someone opens up and starts to tell you about themselves, they have invited you into their castle. You leave everything on the bridge and enter their world, totally open and willing to listen.
If you have the urge to tell a story in the middle of this visit, it’s like ripping them out of their chair, dragging them across the bridge and over into your adjacent castle, and setting them down. After you finish, you pull them up again, run across the bridge, and say, “All right, continue where you left off.”
Instead of doing that, try to listen and ask empathetic questions for as long as you can. When you feel you have something to share, gauge whether they are ready by asking, “Is it okay if I share something with you?” This is a gentle way of leading them out of their castle, picking up the things you left at the door, and sitting down peacefully in your castle. Now you are both prepared for the change in the discussion, and your message will be received better.
Ask empathetic questions
As you listen intently, you may begin to understand how they feel because you’ve felt that way yourself. You may not have been in their situation before, but if you have felt the emotions they are experiencing, you can have empathy for them. When this happens, an empathetic question will occur to you.
Here is one example Dave gives in his book. He had called a friend who was experiencing and extremely difficult financial situation, and Dave had created a safe space for him to explain it. Dave writes,
By the end of his story, I knew where he was—I understood. It became readily apparent why I had been prompted to call. I had been in a similar financial situation. My circumstances had been a little different, but his experiences were close enough to mine for me to understand that all-too-familiar suffocating darkness. My heart ached for him. I could feel his pain.
I remained open for an empathetic question to float to the surface. One finally did—one single question born of my past experiences, which were engraved on my heart. I asked the question without hesitation, “How seriously are you considering suicide?”
“It’s all I’m thinking about,” he tearfully responded.
He flew into town the next day. We spent an evening talking about what is most important in life. Light replaced darkness. Hope replaced despondency.
Your experience may not be this dramatic, but it illustrates the power of empathy to create connection and improve others’ lives.
Listening is enough; you don’t need to offer solutions
If you listen and engage with this person on this level, stepping into their world, asking empathetic questions, and demonstrating that you care, you will have already done them a great service. You will probably think of solutions that could improve their life, but don’t sacrifice the connection you’ve forged if now is not the right time to offer those solutions. In many cases, listening will be enough.
This practice does not work very well when you go into it needing the other person to do something. But in many situations, it will be an excellent skill you can deploy to strengthen relationships.
During your next one-on-one, set aside your agenda and let your employee discuss whatever they need. Unless they explicitly ask for solutions, don’t offer any. Just listen and practice intrinsic validation.
Does this change the relationship? Does trust increase?
For a much more detailed explanation of this practice, as well as multiple good and bad examples of Intrinsic Validation in action, refer to Dave’s book, "Today I Begin a New Life" , in the chapter titled “The Art of Connection”.