Validation is the act of paying attention carefully, tracking another’s behavior, and trying to understand and communicate that understanding to others. When we are actively listening, we are trying to get a “sense” of what the other person is saying- this means “getting” their thoughts, feelings, pain, opinions, and reactions.
Validation is critical in lowering intense, negative, and extreme emotions. With validation, conversations about solving conflict can be possible. Feeling “understood” can help us to calm down, reach out, connect, and be more willing to work through difficult interactions.
Here are a few simple ways to work on validating others:
- Notice your own body. This is important because nonverbal behavior can close down interactions pretty quickly. Try to be open and willing in your body. Let go of sarcasm and judgment. Consider your attentiveness as an invitation to the other person. What makes your posture and tone of voice inviting?
- Listen to what the other person says. Don’t offer to solve problems for them- at least not right away. Consider that the other person may be quite capable of problem solving- but first they need someone to listen. Work on “getting” what they are saying.
- Repeat or summarize what they said. Try phrases like “If I am understanding you correctly, what you are saying is…” “What I hear you saying is….is that accurate?” Allow them to add, correct, or clarify.
- Take an emotional “guess” as to what they are feeling. See if there are any feelings they are not saying out loud and try to put words on that. Again, let them correct you if your emotional “guess” is not accurate. (for a short feelings list see http://www.psychpage.com/learning/library/assess/feelings.html, for a more comprehensive list of adjectives/feelings, see http://eqi.org/fw.htm)
Validation is not the same as agreeing or buying into behaviors that create more problems. Validation can sometimes “backfire” when it is too close to home or more intimate than a person is comfortable with. It can also be difficult if the person wants to avoid talking about what they think or feel. However, validation shows that you are making an effort, you care about the relationship, and that you are working hard to “get” the other person.