To validate is to substantiate or confirm. We feel validated when we are heard and understood. In the context of this article, validation is when one person hears and understands the thoughts and feelings of another, and that person also accepts the fact that they have been heard and understood. Validation is also the process of moving towards that state. Validation sends the unspoken message that the other person is important, that their thoughts are worth hearing and their feelings are accepted.
Validation is perhaps the single most important communication skill in any relationship. I am convinced that most problems of miscommunication can be overcome if only one partner validates the other.
Validation is much easier to accomplish when the listener agrees with what the speaker is expressing. It is more challenging (and actually much more useful) when there is disagreement, especially when it is in the context of a conflict.
Validation can be challenging when you hear something that is uncomfortable. You hear criticism or blame, you feel unfairly verbally attacked, to name a few. Validation is most important during these times, and makes the difference between a difficult conversation leading to deeper understanding and intimacy versus things going downhill fast.
How to Validate
The most important element to validating another person is to put aside, for the moment, whatever preconceived ideas you might have about what they are expressing. Especially abstain from any judgments or criticisms you might have of what they are saying. Instead, focus as firmly as you can on the sole objective of hearing and understanding as deeply as possible what they are saying and feeling.
The second element is to reflect back to the other person. This is best done in your own words, and should not simply repeat their words. That usually comes across as mocking when the conversation is emotionally charged.
- Do not have any agenda other than to understand the other person. In particular, don’t try to express your own point of view – yet. The time for that will come after they have been validated. Don’t be mentally tapping your foot waiting for them to stop talking so you can say your piece. Instead, focus exclusively on hearing them.
- Be sure to go beyond the thoughts to the feelings being expressed. Keep in mind that feelings are not “right” or “wrong” but simply are. The more you can accept that, the easier it will be for you to validate their feelings.
- Don’t try to console them or try to talk them out of their feelings. Create a safe space for them to express their feelings without fear of being invalidated. It may take awhile for that level of trust to develop, and the more you practice validation, the sooner it will happen.
- Don’t offer advice, give suggestions, or try to solve their problem. Trust that the validation process will help facilitate them to finding their own solutions. Don’t rush them to solutions either – allow them to find it in their own time.
- Be congruent with your tone of voice and body language. Show interest with eye contact. A posture that indicates you are bored or indifferent will be “louder” than your words.
- Be patient and allow the conversation to unfold at its own pace. Be sure to stay with the person. Reflecting something they said a few minutes ago sends and invalidating message.
Some Misconceptions and Errors about Validation
• Validation is agreeing.
Validation is not agreeing with the other person’s point of view – it is agreeing that they have a complete right to that point of view. Validation simply means that you hear and understand the other person’s thoughts and feelings, and they know you do.
• Validation reinforces bad behavior.
Validation does nothing of the kind. It is not a “reward” for good behavior. It is a way to understand deeply the other person’s thoughts and feelings. It is especially important when there is disagreement.
• Their feelings don’t make any sense.
Feelings are always “true” regardless of whether they make sense or not. Feelings simply are – it never makes sense to say, “You shouldn’t feel that way” since the person does feel “that way.” Of course, if you hear someone say this to you, then your response is ideally to validate them!
• Validating is accepting and encouraging abuse.
Validation is about accepting thoughts and feelings, not accepting unacceptable behavior. If what you are hearing is not okay (such as criticism, yelling, etc.), then start by validating them. Then when they feel validated, set your limit about what is acceptable. Until then, they won’t be able to hear you.
• Expressing your thoughts before they feel validated.
When a person is upset or experiencing strong feelings, they are not open to hearing what you have to say until they feel heard and understood (i.e. validated)
• Being insincere.
Validating in a mechanical way or pretending to listen is actually invalidating. If for some reason you are unable to listen and validate, tell the other person it’s not a good time right now and set another time. Better yet, practice becoming more comfortable and skilled with validating.
Contrast with Invalidation
Validation examples are pretty much the opposite of the invalidation examples of Part 1. Please note that every item in the invalidation list from Part I can be responded to with validating responses.
1.) Accepting Your Feelings
- “So you felt sad about that.”
- “That was painful to hear.”
- “Something about what happened was uncomfortable for you.”
2.) Accepting How You Look
- “Something’s not okay.”
- “You look sad – do you want to talk about it?”
3.) Accepting Your Perception
- “It makes sense that you see it that way.”
- “That’s a reasonable point of view.”
- “It’s understandable to feel that way.”
4.) Avoiding Manipulation
- “You’re still not okay with the way things are.”
- “Something you heard was not okay.”
- “You didn’t appreciate it when that happened.”
5.) Accepting Your Perspective Regardless of What Others May Think
- “That’s an interesting point – I’d like to hear more about that.”
- “I haven’t heard it expressed quite that way before – tell me more.”
6.) Honoring Your Feelings
- “That was awful!”
- “You have good reason to be upset about that.”
- “So it is important to you that this matter be addressed immediately.”
7.) Avoiding Logic and Arguing
- ” It makes sense to feel that way.”
8.) Avoiding Judgment
- “Something about what’s happening is confusing to you.”
9.) Acceptance, Even if in Disagreement
- “You have a reason for seeing it that way.”
- “That’s an interesting way to look at that.”
10.) Avoiding Philosophizing
- “You’re having a hard time with this now, and are looking for a way forward.”