Imagine the following scenario:

After three years in your current role, you decide to transfer to a new division in your company. The change excites you, but you’re also anxious. You’re new to the business, you’re not a full-fledged subject matter expert yet and you don’t really know your colleagues.

In week one, your manager decides to test you. They put you in front of a client, without you knowing all of the required information to have a successful meeting. You express concern to your manager and their response is:

“In this role, you either sink or swim. Get your $#!t together.”

Imagine another scenario:

You’re feeling sad because someone you love is either ill or has passed away. You’ve been crying during random moments of the day for weeks. You seek out a friend, a family member or a colleague to share your thoughts with.

And they tell you to “Be strong.”

Psychological Invalidation

If you’ve ever experienced variations of these cases, you’d likely agree that these so-called words of encouragement actually made you feel worse. Psychologists refer to this as psychological invalidation, or “the act of rejecting, dismissing, or minimizing someone else’s thoughts and feelings,” according to The article goes even further by claiming that “this behaviour is a form of emotional abuse and causes greater psychological distress, which makes the recipient filled with self-doubt.” 

Now ask yourself: have you ever told someone else to pull it together, be strong, or sink or swim?

It’s on you to change

I’m often asked for my opinion on attributes successful leaders must have. I usually respond with the following statement:

A successful leader must be able to adapt their emotions and environments to achieve their goals. 

Let’s unpack this statement. 

Leaders must be adaptable. There are no two people who respond the exact same way and therefore there is no one-size-fits-all statement or narrative for every single person in a working group. You need to modify your communication style accordingly.

Leaders must adapt their emotions and environments: As I’ve gotten older, I have gained a newfound respect for teachers. I think back to my elementary and high school years, when the ratio of teachers to students was about 1 to 30. Take a moment and really think about that. One person is tasked with creating a safe learning environment for 30 highly impressionable young people — many of whom come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The teacher has to juggle being happy, sad, compassionate, authoritative, inspirational and authentic. If they don’t, they risk alienating their students which could prevent them from succeeding. 

Needless to say, a successful teacher has mastered the art of adapting their emotions and environments to achieve their goals. They have earned their summers off!

Call to Action

1. Think of a time when someone has come to you with a problem. What did you say to them? Were you dismissive? Is there something you wish you could have done differently? If so, what would have you done?

2. Going forward, avoid psychological invalidation. Ask the person to describe their feelings or concerns. Modify your communication style based on what you know and have observed about this person. Be compassionate.

And no matter what anyone says, it is okay to feel how you feel.

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