Oprah Winfrey has interviewed a lot of people. She's interviewed world leaders, celebrities, billionaires, prisoners, abuse victims, and--more recently--Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. One of the reasons she has become such a cultural icon is because of her ability to make a connection with people and draw out their story--even when those people are literal royalty.
When you think about it, it's an extraordinary perspective on the human condition. She has seen, perhaps, a wider range of humanity than almost anyone else who has ever lived. She's met and talked to people from almost every demographic and socio-economic background.
And yet, as she put it in an interview in 2013 with Moira Forbes at the Forbes 400 Summit, every single one of those people has something in common. Winfrey says all of the people she interviews--from world leaders, to convicted murderers, to celebrities, to Beyoncé--ask some version of the same three-world question:
"Was that OK?"
Despite the interview being eight years old at this point, I think it's just as timely today as it was at the time. I came across it on YouTube the other day as I was researching something completely different, and it stuck with me. Then, this weekend, I had the occasion to get on stage in front of a room full of people, and when I walked off, the first question I asked my wife was, "Was that OK?"
I've never been interviewed by Oprah, but I imagine it's a bit intimidating, even if you are famous, or wealthy, or powerful in your own right. That's because everyone wants to be validated. After sharing their story, everyone wants to know that they did well and lived up to expectations.
"What I learned in all of those thousands of interviews is that there is a common denominator in all of our human experience," Winfrey says. "Everybody wants to know, did you hear me, and did what I say matter?"
People are more alike than you might think, especially at the core. Every single one of us wants to know that our story matters, and we want to know that we did OK. It's especially important to hear it from people we trust and respect--even more so from those we admire.
That's actually an important lesson, especially if you're a leader. The people around you are looking for the same thing from you.
It's true for every relationship you have, whether it's with your employees, your co-workers, your friends, your spouse, or your children. Every single one of those people wants to know that they are valued.
The flip side of that is that if you have influence in someone's life, you have the ability to make them feel heard--to make them feel valued. The amazing part is that it's as simple as answering a three-word question with a one-word answer: "Yes."