I am so excited to write about Validation. I am passionate about validation and want to teach it from the rooftops. I believe it is a basic human need. We all need to be validated. We can validate those around us as well as ourselves. The information in this post came from Michael S. Sorensen’s book “I Hear You” I highly recommend it. 

Validation is the quickest, simplest and most powerful way to improve a relationship. Any relationship. Romantic or platonic. With children, siblings, parents, friends, co-workers or your spouse. And most importantly the relationship with yourself. Validation is key! 

Here are some things that validation helps with: 

  • Calms (and sometimes even eliminate) the concerns, fears, or uncertainties of others. This is especially helpful if your significant other is upset, if you’re dealing with irate customers or coworkers, or if you’re trying to reason with young children.
  • Adds a boost to others’ excitement and happiness. This is an obvious gift to the other person, but studies have also shown that validating the positive experiences of others can drastically improve connection and satisfaction in a relationship.
  • Provides support and encouragement to others, even when you don’t know how to fix the problem. There is great confidence in knowing you can help someone in any situation, regardless of your own experience or expertise.
  • More easily show love, understanding, and compassion in your intimate relationships. Research (and common sense) show that this skill is critical to lasting, happy relationships.
  • Help others feel safe and comfortable confiding in you. This promotes deeper, more meaningful connection and increases others’ affinity toward you.
  • Avoid or quickly resolve arguments. Instead of butting heads and going in circles, you’ll save time, frustration, and headache by knowing how to calm the other party and make your point heard.
  • Give advice that sticks. When you understand and validate others, they become significantly more open to your advice, feedback, and/or assurance.
  • Improves your negotiations. Whether in business or any other area of life, validation helps you disarm your counterpart and more quickly reach a deal that you both feel great about.

The change when you are validated is almost tangible. It’s amazing the shift that takes place mentally and emotionally when we are validated. Here are 4 steps to validate.

  1. Listen Empathically
  2. Validate the Emotion
  3. Offer Advice or Encouragement
    (if appropriate)
  4. Validate the Emotion Again

Step 1: Listen Empathically

Give your full attention. If you’re distracted, let the other person know and ask to talk at a later time. When you are available to talk, close your laptop, turn off the TV, and keep your attention on the conversation at hand.

This situation comes up with my kids a lot. I will be in the middle of a young women’s meeting or cooking dinner and instead of just blowing them off I let them know that I want to listen to them but I’m busy and we can talk later. The key is not forgetting later! 

Invite them to open up. If you suspect someone wants to talk about something but isn’t comfortable initiating the conversation, try asking a simple question like, “You seem upset. What’s up?” “Oh man that would be so hard. Want to talk about it?” 

Be observant. As much as 70 percent of our communication is nonverbal. Pay close attention to the other person’s tone of voice and body language to better understand them.

Match their energy. If the other person is happy or excited, then smile, laugh, and share in the thrill. If they are discouraged or sad, then be respectful and speak in a softer, more compassionate manner.

Offer micro validation. Offer short comments such as “no way!”, “Seriously?”, or “I’d feel that way too” to help the other person feel comfortable sharing. This lets them know that you are listening, withholding judgment, and seeing things from their perspective.

Don’t try to fix it. Refrain from offering advice, feedback, or assurance until step 3. Avoid comments such as “at least . . . ”, “you should . . . ”, or “that’s not true.”

In a situation where a friend (or daughter) tells you that she’s fat it’s tempting to say “That’s not true!” and dismiss the conversation because you don’t want her to entertain that thought. But you didn’t uncover why they think they are fat and you didn’t change their mind with that one statement. The truth is they are going to keep thinking they are fat after you claim “that’s not true” and what’s worse is they won’t view you as someone they can open up to. What would be better is to let them know you heard them and then ask questions to get to know what is making them feel that way. From there you can validate. 

Step 2: Validate the Emotion

Validate their emotion. Once there’s a pause in the conversation or the other person is done sharing, validate them more fully. This is best done by 1) acknowledging the emotions they’ve expressed, and 2) offering justification for feeling those emotions.

Validate, even if you disagree. Not only is it possible to validate someone you disagree with, it’s advantageous to do so. When you validate the other person, they become significantly more likely to listen to a differing opinion or advice. Once you show that you truly hear them, they will be much more likely to hear you.

Studies have shown that people don’t move on until they feel heard. If a person doesn’t feel heard they won’t move on and hear a different opinion because they are stuck on the fact that no one heard theirs. Think about it. Have you ever seen this happen in an argument? 

Not sure what the other person is feeling? Ask. A simple question such as “How are you feeling about all this?” or “I imagine you’re pretty upset?” is often enough to get the clarity you need to validate.

If you can relate, consider letting them know. Use phrases such as “I can relate” or “I had a similar experience” instead of “I know exactly how you feel.” Be sure to turn the focus back to them after sharing your experience.

If you can’t relate, let them know. Acknowledging that you haven’t been in someone else’s shoes and don’t know exactly how they feel can be incredibly validating.

Tell the truth. Resist the urge to lie to make someone feel better. Instead, acknowledge the truth, validate their emotions, then provide comfort and assurance in step 3.

Step 3: Offer Advice or Encouragement (if Appropriate)

Offering feedback or advice is entirely optional. Perhaps someone has shared an exciting or proud moment, or perhaps you simply have no advice to give. Validation is healing in and of itself. It is not always necessary or appropriate to give advice.

Avoid giving unsolicited feedback. Just because someone is sharing a difficult experience doesn’t mean they are looking for advice. Determine whether they are open to receiving feedback by either 1) asking what they are expecting from you (e.g., “How can I help?”), or 2) asking permission to give advice (e.g., “I have a few thoughts on the matter. May I share?”).

If you do give feedback, lead with a validating statement. Even though you just offered validation in step 2, prefacing your feedback with one more validating statement will reiterate the fact that you’ve heard them and are connected with their experience.

Use “and” instead of “but.” Doing so will help you avoid inadvertently negating your validation, comments, etc.

Listen to the difference: “The sleep deprivation that comes with a new baby is hard, but you will get through it.” vs. “The sleep deprivation that comes with a new baby is so hard and I know that you will get through it.” 

Avoid Absolutes. When giving difficult feedback, replace absolute terms such as “always” and “never” with softer (and often more accurate) alternatives such as “often” or “rarely.” If you do choose to use an absolute term, lead with “I think,” “I feel,” etc. instead of “you.”

Step 4: Validate Again

Re-validate the emotion. Whether you’ve given advice in step 3 or not, work in one final bit of validation at the end of the conversation. Doing so reiterates the fact that you hear and understand the other person and ends the conversation on a positive, emotionally uplifting note.

Validate the vulnerability. Sharing personal thoughts, experiences, or emotions can be difficult, uncomfortable, and even scary. If someone opens up to you, thank them for it and validate the fact that doing so can be quite difficult.

In certain situations, steps 1 and 2 (Listening Empathically and Validating the Emotion) may be enough. At other times, you may go through the whole set multiple times. Every situation will be different. You’ll know what feels natural and genuine in the moment and, with practice, you’ll find that validation becomes second nature.

A huge part of Self-Compassion is validating yourself. Not only do you see yourself in a clear light but you are able to validate yourself. In my self compassion workbook you go through the process of uncovering the reason you are critical of yourself and you learn how to soften that inner voice. On day 6 in particular you learn to reframe and validate. 

I hope you pay attention to the validation that happens or doesn’t happen around you. I hope you are able to validate yourself and those around you. I promise it will change your relationship with yourself and all your other relationships.

Check out Michael S. Sorensen’s book, blog and podcast for great information on validation. Michaelssorensen.com