Social Validation in Nursing

The concept of looking to other people for guidance in situations is not a new one – we do this unconsciously and automatically when we aren’t certain what to do in a situation. This is true whether we’re looking for professional recommendations or we’re simply reading product reviews on Amazon prior to purchasing something. What is a bit more interesting, however, is that we also look to other people to validate our actions even when we are confident in our decisions.

But why do we do that?

It may go deeper than just the need for affirmation that we’re “doing a good job” or “doing the right thing” or “making a smart decision” – it also lies in the need for many of us to influence the opinions that people make about us. Our self-rating of our success depends on others’ recognition of a job well done; we need people to say that we’re more than capable – we need to hear that we were “just who was needed” to get the job done right.

Examples of the need for social validation can be found across cultures, across countries, and across academic and professional settings. It’s this social validation that reassures us that we are “on the right track” with our peers, that we are accepted, and that we are “good people” despite our shortcomings in our personal and professional lives.

Social validation is necessary, and it’s a positive force, whether it’s directed at children, office staff professionals, nurses, or anyone else.

Social Validation with Athletes

Basketball legend Michael Jordan in 2009 described his need for social validation as an athlete – even though he knew all along that he was a good basketball player. In his acceptance speech that year for induction into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, Jordan told a story about how his coach, Dean Smith, had once been featured in Sports Illustrated. In Smith’s interview, he listed only four starters on the basketball team, omitting Michael. Jordan said he was irate, and explained that the omission fueled his need to show Smith how great of a player he was. This need to be acknowledged and validated kept him going throughout not only his college ball years, but also through his years in the NBA. Jordan already knew he was a great player, but wanted to see that others saw it, too; he needed the validation.

Social Validation in Academics

In the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory, a group of friends comprised of an engineer and two physicists were working on proving a very advanced experimental theory. While the idea that served as the foundation for the theory came from one of the scientists, another friend in the group began to take much of the credit for the experiment, eventually garnering much more fame and attention for it than his friend. While the original thought leader of the group already knew that he was the one responsible for the initial idea, it wasn’t enough; he wanted in on the acknowledgment and the social validation. He needed to know that people were aware that it was actually his idea in order to be satisfied. It was important to him that his colleagues acknowledged his work and the fact that it was his original idea that led to the successful theory.

Social Validation in Marketing

Online marketing is an area that has come to rely heavily on social validation; since social media began, people have become more skeptical, less easily swayed, and more discerning of businesses. Companies are now finding that it’s more challenging to win the trust of consumers, but with social validation, that task becomes remarkably easier. True is a company that can facilitate this social validation for businesses; it offers them online customer activity notifications to show their customers how others are positively interacting with that business. True utilizes social influence to help businesses increase sales and customer trust at the same time. It’s modern-day social validation working for advertising and marketing, and it works.

How often do you read feedback and consumer reviews of products and/or services online before you make a purchase? In marketing, if a product receives positive reviews from users, other consumers become more likely to purchase it, too. The opposite holds true as well, of course: a product, company, or service with negative feedback can deter consumers in a heartbeat. Consumers have come to rely on other consumers to influence many of their purchasing decisions; people distrust brands more than in the past, so companies must cultivate validity from consumers in order to survive these days.

Social Validation in Nursing

Many nurses continually report issues in the workplace that have to do with a notable deficiency in social skills, and perhaps not surprisingly, lack of acknowledgment is one of those skills often mentioned as lacking in the workplace. This is especially true in nursing environments in which nurses face a higher-than-average rate of stress, grief, and harassment from patients and their families. Those nurses who continuously must deal with an excess of badgering from the people they are trying to take care of are the professionals who need validation the most in order to help create a “buffer” against the constant insults, the complaints, and the mistreatment they face during their shifts. This includes nurses in emergency rooms, intensive care units, long-term care facilities, and more.

According to an article by TheCommuter, BSN, RN, human nature often operates on emotion, rather than logic. The author explains, “Many people are looking to be told what they want to hear…I developed an awareness of humankind’s profound needs for validation and personal acknowledgement.” She goes on to explain, “Coworkers will want to work with you once you show an interest in them as a person. The point is to validate one’s existence as a person. Some of our colleagues, superiors and subordinates are pathetically lonely people who crave validation at the workplace because they do not get it in their personal lives.”

Furthermore, she says, “It’s all about the skill of acknowledgment. The nurse with the warm personality who knows what to say, when to smile, when to stroke the patient’s hand, and how to allay the family member’s fears will win their approval even though she’s failed to rescue multiple times over the years. Patients and families judge healthcare workers based on how good they were made to feel.”

Lifting Each Other Up

Forbes once said of social validation, “In its traditional definition, social validation is a psychological phenomenon where one or more passive individuals follow or conform to the actions of others within a group.”

Influencers have surfaced everywhere thanks to the Internet, from Instagram models to Facebook groups. Nurses are no exception to this phenomenon and are playing a huge part in social validation. Personalities such as Katie Duke, Nurse Mendoza and Lauren Drain have amassed huge numbers of followers simply by living their day to day lives. Using their industry as a platform, their expertise in their chosen fields and like-ability factors influence millions.

In general, most people feel good when they know others value them, and this is why social validation is so important. It gives us a glimpse of what others think of us, what others know about us, and how others perceive us. When all is said and done, some people need more social validation than others; many of us know we are good enough, we are capable, and we are needed. Sometimes, we just need to make sure that the right people know it, too.

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Michael Harbron

Michael Harbron is the Editor in Chief of Scrubs Magazine.

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