Validation: the secret superpower for improving your communication and relationships
Have you ever been discussing something and making really great points and the other person is just NOT budging? They are just stuck in their viewpoint and unwilling to hear yours?
Or maybe you’ve been in a discussion (argument?) with your partner and they are really upset about something and just won’t hear your very logical perspective on why all their big emotion is not necessary?
Or maybe you have even been on the side of feeling really strongly and getting very upset when the other person is just downplaying your side and trying to convince you that you are not right?
What gives? And how are we supposed to move past these stuck points?
Enter the secret superpower: VALIDATION.
Validation is a communication tool that lets another person know “I hear you.” When used correctly, it can shift the dynamic and make compromise and closeness possible.
Simply put, validation is a way of communicating that another person’s feelings, thoughts, and actions are understandable to you. That’s it.
Validation is NOT approval or endorsement.
Validation is NOT giving in or shutting down.
Validation is simply sending the message “I see you; I understand you; I hear you.”
If you can help a person feel validated, they are much more willing to stop digging in on their perspective or their intense effort to convince you to see where they are coming from. They are more willing to listen in return.
Why even bother validating someone?
Validation improves trust by showing that we are listening without judgment and we want to understand
Validation makes closeness possible because it communicates safety and acceptance. It makes others more receptive to us.
Validation helps you understand the other person’s view and makes it more possible for you to feel authentic respect for them.
Validation reduces the intense pressure to be “right” and makes it easier to actually talk and find resolve.
Validation makes problem solving or compromise easier because both people feel understood and are more able to focus on the facts of the issue.
Validation regulates intense emotions like anger or fear on both sides. When we don’t feel understood, we tend to get more passionate. We typically get angry or scared when we believe we are being judged or hurt or denied something.
Validation shows the other person they matter and we are all much more open and flexible when we feel important or worthwhile.
How exactly can you validate someone?
Actively listen - face the other person squarely, make eye contact, look interested, listen without thinking of your next response, and avoid multitasking (put down your phone or whatever you are doing).
Be careful with your reactions - pay attention to your own body. Avoid rolling your eyes or shaking your head, sighing or sucking your teeth. Observe their face & body language and respond similarly with your face (smile, nod, look concerned if they frown, etc.).
Validate their nonverbal signals – when a person is struggling, they can feel like they matter just by someone noticing that they’re struggling.
Ex: if the person you’re talking with is crying, you can offer a tissue or reach out with your hand; if they are getting loud or animated in public, you can offer to move to a more private area or do a walk and talk.
Say back what you heard without using judgment. Your goal is to show that you are truly listening and really “get” what the person is feeling or expressing. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings, wants, difﬁculties, and opinions about the situation with your words. Avoid judgmental language, snarky voice tone, critical facial expression or dismissive posture.
Ex: “Okay, so you’re saying that you sometimes feel jealous of the time I spend playing video games with my friends?”
Express understanding of their perspective. Your goal is to step into their life and consider how whatever they think or feel makes sense given their current needs, their life history, their state of mind or body, their unique circumstances. Then validate with words:
Ex: “It makes sense that you feel/think/need/want _______ because of _________ in your life. ”
Validate the WHY even if you disagree with the WHAT. We can validate a reason why a person is feeling, thinking, or doing something, without agreeing with what they are actually thinking or doing.
Ex: you can tell your friend that you absolutely understand why they were angry at their boss for cutting their hours at work, without telling your friend you agree with what they did when they slashed their boss’s tires.
Have an open mind. Just listen and avoid disagreeing, criticizing, or trying to change the person’s mind or goals. Use a calm and even tone of voice in responding and allow the other person to correct you if you are not quite getting their perspective correctly.
Ex: “Okay I think I get it. You are mad at me because you think I didn’t text you back just to make you worry on purpose. Did I get that right?”
Getting started with validation
If the concept of validation is a bit new to you, try to practice it when the conversation is not about you (like a friend talking about work or a spouse talking about haggling with the cable company).
It’s easier to validate others when we're not feeling personally attacked.
Try out some of these phrases:
I hear you.
That must have hurt.
That's no fun.
That sounds discouraging.
That sounds like it would really hurt.
Wow, that's a lot to deal with.
I'd feel sad/hurt/angry/jealous, too.
I would feel the same way in that situation.
I can understand how you feel.
It sounds like you are really feeling ____.
It sounds like _____ is really important to you.
What bothers you the most about it?
The push-back I get from clients about using validation
Sometimes when I explore the concept of validation with clients, I hear some of the following concerns:
The concern: “If I validate them, they will just keep on talking more and more and more about it and I’m already having a hard time dealing with this topic!”
The truth: when a person feels validated (truly understood and listened to), they calm down on the inside, and the pressure to keep talking or pushing their perspective will subside more quickly.
The concern:“But I don’t want to have to be the one to always validate them...I want to be validated too!”
The truth: sometimes other people will naturally reciprocate validation once they feel validated themselves. Sometimes we have to teach others how to validate us. Ex: “Sharon, it would really make me feel more understood if you could try to step into my shoes and see why I might be feeling this way. Would you be willing to do that?”
The concern: “But sometimes I just get so pissed off, there is no way I will be able to validate the nonsense that my partner is trying to tell me!”
The truth: you’re right. You are too escalated in that kind of moment to do any good in that conversation. That level of anger inside is your cue to take a break from the conversation and talk later when you are calmer. Communicate this! Ex: “I’m really angry right now and I know this topic is something that’s important for us to figure out. I want to just take a break and cool off so I can actually talk it through together. Can we talk more tonight?”
If I had to pick just one communication or relationship tool to teach, it would be validation. It’s just that powerful. When you choose to validate someone, you are demonstrating that you care and that their feelings matter to you -- in other words, that they matter to you. It's a game changer.
Think about a time when you felt truly seen and understood by another person. Can you recall how powerful that was? How it made you feel calmer and more connected to them and maybe even more hopeful?
Start now. Give validation a try today and see how it can change your communication and relationships!