The Secret Power of Validation
A few years ago I took a free twelve-week course that was a support group as well as a skills class. I learned a lot of valuable things but one of the most important things I learned was the secret power of validation. I wished I had learned it earlier in life and it was so powerful I wanted our work team to learn and practice it. It was something so simple and since then I often try to be aware of it when I’m speaking to people. I’m also acutely aware of when this powerful tool is missing from my conversations. As a Christian, it seems to be missing from a lot of “godly” conversations. As Christians, we can be so drilled with rules like not judging or trying not to gossip that we forget to be compassionate listeners. As people, we can get caught up in secret thoughts of “I told you so” or judgments of whether or not what we hear is true.
A quick dictionary search on the word validation says it’s the recognition and affirmation that a person, their feelings or opinions are valid and worthwhile. That’s basically it. So you can stop reading now. Just kidding, there’s a little bit more I want to share.
Since taking this course, I’ve found this to be such an effective way of relating to people. Often we hear about issues that others are going through and we can sometimes listen with our own biases. If we care about the person we are speaking to we are more likely to try and listen, understand and empathize. However, even with people we care about, we can sometimes shut down conversations with harsh but well-meaning words full of our own judgments.
What are a few things validation can do?
It builds trust and feelings of safety
It connects you to others’ experiences
It creates openings for real conversations
It minimizes anger and conflict
It stimulates problem-solving in the one hurting
The secret power of validation can be applied to experiences with sexism, racism, ageism, and religious conflict without personally having extensive knowledge of these topics. It can help relationally with siblings, parents, children, friends, and co-workers.
The sad thing is we can miss out on building relationships because we are unwilling to take a moment to really hear what a person is saying and validate that experience as being true for them even if you don’t think it’s true at all. Validating someone’s personal experience and perspective has nothing to do with whether you think they are right or if you agree with them or even that you are endorsing a situation. It is not a time for advice or even investigating. It is simply acknowledging that their perspective is real and meaningful to you.
Just saying something as simple as “I’m sorry you experienced or went through that” without an added list of your opinions or investigative questions is powerful and shows kindness. The truth is we really don’t know what other people are experiencing internally. Even if outwardly the situation could be similar, inwardly what two people are experiencing could be vastly different. It doesn’t take much to validate a person and make them feel like they are valuable.
Don’t try to ignore, play-off, or minimize what their hurt or experience has been
Don’t judge or investigate
There is a time for research but your main priority as someone who wants to listen and support is first to believe their experience and recognize that it has been difficult for them no matter how trivial you might think it is. A great example of this is when dealing with children. We often don’t validate children’s and teenagers’ emotions enough because we think what they are hurting about is silly. This can teach them a sad lesson about life and make them feel that they are unimportant or their feelings don’t need to be shared.
Here are some statements that can shut down conversations:
“Get over it”
“It wasn’t that bad”
“I knew that was going to happen”
“You make bad decisions”
“Did it really happen like that?”
“What did you do to make that happen?”
How to use validating statements…
Help the person you are speaking to feel understood by making statements that are compassionate without judgments. Fill them with a lot of “I hear you” sentiments and take time to reflect back on their feelings.
“That sounds difficult”
“I’m sorry you went through that”
“This must be hard for you”
“You must have felt…”
“I understand why you would feel like that”
“I’m here if you need to talk”
Sometimes all you need to know from a person is that what they experienced is real for them. Let the power of listening and validation deepen the relationships around you.