I made up the term COVID-Brain a while ago to calm my anxiety, spaciness, and inability to focus and make decisions. Then I read this article:
"In times like these, our brains tend to work differently. The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for complex planning, working memory and analytical thinking, is swamped with ambiguous signals, impacting our decision-making abilities. Meanwhile, the brain scours its long-term memory systems for comparable experiences. Finding few precedents for this pandemic, it looks intently outward for guidance on what to do next. The combination of impaired analytical thinking and heightened external sensitivity creates what can be called Covid-19 brain\ - a fragile, frazzled state that keeps our thoughts simultaneously on edge and unfocused."
Hallelujah! COVID-Brain is for real! We haven’t lost our minds! Okay, but now what?
Supporting our Fragile, Frazzled State
There are many excellent articles on COVID coping including this one on resetting our expectations (written for managers, but really for all of us.) However, I believe there\'s an even more potent practice, and it is the process of validation in conversation.
I remember reading that at the end of Oprah’s long-running show, she noted the ONE thing that her 30,000 guests had in common: You guessed it. The need for validation, which we all know she offers in spades to everyone.
Validation Doesn't Mean I Agree with You
Yet while we are wired to connect, this doesn't mean we are always on the same page as the other person. And the same goes for validation, which like empathy, communicates that I see you. I hear you. You matter. Whether or not I agree with you.
Validation doesn’t take a lot of time. And it helps enormously to shift our fuzzy brains back into focus. It’s a powerful gift of connection and engagement we can give to anyone at any time.
Imagine your work environment. A colleague logs on for a virtual call and when you ask them how they are, they respond: Exhausted. I can’t keep up with anything anymore.
What do you say in response?
- You think you’re exhausted?
- Everyone is exhausted right now.
- Damn you’re a downer.
- What’s going on?
Maybe you feel like the person is complaining, or that you are way more tired than they are, or maybe you feel like their need is a bottomless pit.
Instead of stewing in your frustration, you might take a moment and reflect back with empathy on what you’ve heard, whether or not you agree with what they’re feeling. Like: “That sounds hard and overwhelming to be so exhausted. And it must make the week really long. I’m wishing you a bit of sanity wherever you can find it.”
Validation is not about fixing someone! Or taking responsibility for their challenges and telling them what to do. It’s not dismissive, it’s not directive and it’s not critical. It’s listening and offering back a reflection and connection.
Validation Increases Employee Engagement
Validation increases employee engagement. In fact, did you know that just two short (2 minutes) touchpoints a day with your individual team members is better than one longer connection a day?
Validation is powerful for many reasons. It calms our reactive, primitive, lizard brain. And when we feel safe and connected, our brains don’t need to sound the alarm to fight, freeze or flee.
Validation also increases endorphins and the happy hormones that are produced through connection. And connection sends positive signals to our pre-frontal cortex to make better decisions.
By reflecting back an emotion to another person, you give them an opportunity to recognize what they are feeling while making the social connection that is so essential to our survival.
Today, I invite you to join me in this practice. Whether in person or online, listen with the intention to validate one person’s feelings – their pain, joy, excitement, confusion, questioning, hope, anxiety, whatever is up for them.
It only takes a moment of connection. (You are not a therapist – this is not an hour session!) Then watch their face. See if it doesn’t visibly soften and relax.
I think you will agree. When we choose validation, we provide others with much-needed medicine, and COVID Brain relief. And that\'s an EQ skill that will serve us well for months to come.