If you're like most people, a surge of instant dejection is followed by a swift injection of anger, resentment and irritation. A latent dislike of the offender builds. In your mind, they're silently and slowly canceled.
But how often do you tell others they're wrong? Most of us do it more than we think and more than we should.
Of course, you may think you're more subtle and diplomatic than that. It might be disguised as "I'm not sure I agree," or "Here's another way to look at that" or "It's just my opinion, but..." Boards communicate these sentiments obliquely. On his first day at Twitter, Chief Twit Elon Musk fired his CEO. The actions are equivalent to the same thing.
As a leader, the cost of liberally using this phrase is high. A fleeting moment of ego-stroking superiority for you becomes an esteem-stunting experience for others.
Of course, healthy disagreement is essential. But that's not the same as 50 different ways of saying, "You're wrong...! "It's a skill many have mastered in every industry I've ever worked.
Now imagine your boss, colleague or partner saying, "You're right." What's more, they announce it publicly.
You jump a mile high. That spring in your step lasts a week! What's more, you feel far more valued and become a happiness super spreader. That single comment carries a force multiplier effect. It's positively contagious.
It's a strategy Frank Maguire of Federal Express and KFC used for years to shift the sales culture. In his book, You're the Greatest," he recounts how this phrase validates people a lot more than we think. Moreover, it improves the bottom line.
He argues motivation lasts a short time, but validation lasts a lifetime. Chairman Fred Smith agrees. This approach "not only taught Federal Express not just how to communicate but how to have a heart."
Why don't more business leaders engage in positive reinforcement? After all, we live in a modern era that increasingly demands compassionate leadership, kindness and empathy.
In some cases, preoccupied leaders are unaware of the potential impact of their words and the potent contagion 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 is in perspective. The economy won't collapse, your marriage won't implode and the stock price won't crater. Yet many leaders remain disproportionate in their thinking.
"You're right" may well be the converse of "I'm wrong," but this positive application is much more effective long-term.
As a leader, if you consciously boost the level of validation, you're guaranteed three things:
Why? Because science shows that likability, trust, credibility and influence are psychologically connected.
Naturally, no manager can validate employees continuously. For one thing, it would be exhausting. But moreover, there would be little hunger for learning and improvement.
Nevertheless, a better balance is needed as employees silently struggle with today's cost-of-living crisis and inflationary pressures. It's a balance most organizations need to get right.
As a behavioral scientist, I recommend several ways to validate employees without compromising long-term productivity:
1. Isolate features
The 17th Century philosopher Blaise Pascal suggests one way to persuade someone they're wrong is to tell them they're right. Separate the dimensions. Even if the pitch, presentation or proposal is flawed, choose aspects that are directionally on track and give a qualified "You're right about X." You can applaud some element of a new idea even if you disagree with the fundamental concept.
2. Solicit opinion
Don't aim to win each battle. Ask yourself if it's worth pointing out flaws to other parties. Sometimes it just isn't. Would your relationship survive that? Show you value conflicting opinions instead and listen. As I have written before, taking advice is better than giving it. Employees will feel more valued, and it will provide you with another chance to declare, "You're right."
3. Invite counter-views
Be open to alternative or counterintuitive ideas. It might just be that a point of clarification transforms a bad idea into a good idea. Changing perspective allows you to confirm, "You're right." People never forget how you make them feel. And they feel good when validated.
Despite its evident power, validation is an under-utilized leadership tool. But you can use it instantly--words matter.
And in this case, it only takes two to change mood and mindset.
As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."