Validation – A superpower for super relationships

Hello Twenty-somethings and other heroes on the journey, Today, I am writing about one of the most important skills for relationships. It’s something that could make or break a relationship; it perhaps could even save a marriage!

At the Live the Life You Want Weekend, Oprah spoke on the concept of validation. After years on her talk show, she had conducted thousands of interviews with all sorts of people, from housewives to politicians to famous musicians. In those interviews, she realized a commonality amongst all people. After each and every interview, each interviewee, from Barack Obama to Beyonce (in all her Beyonce-ness), would ask: “How did I do? Did I do okay?” The desire for validation is common amongst all of us human beings. We all want and need to know: “Did you see me, did you hear me and did what I say mean anything to you?”

So what is validation and why is it important to your relationships?

Validation is the acknowledgment of another person’s feelings as valid and understandable whether or not you can relate at a personal level. Validation calls you to focus and really hear the person speaking to you. It communicates acceptance, that you value the other person, and helps to strengthen and deepen relationships.

Say your significant other comes home after a difficult day at work and needs to vent about his/her day. If you are emotionally unavailable by being distracted or dismissing his/her comments by changing the topic (“There, there, how about we go out for a nice dinner instead”), you are invalidating how your partner feels. It’s almost like you’re brushing them off, saying: “Oh that’s nice, honey,” refusing to look up from the latest update on your Facebook and Twitter feed from people you don’t really like nor care about.

Another way we invalidate the people that matter to us is by trying to “fix” the other person’s issue or offer advice when he/she just wants you to listen. In an emotional or deep moment, the other person needs reassurance and wants to know that he/she was heard. By offering your advice and/or your “great” ideas too soon or before the person is finished, you are stealing his/her spotlight. It’s almost like you are saying, “That sucks, honey, but by the way, here’s my awesome idea!” I too am guilty of this and always need to remind myself to pause, pay attention, or even ask what the other person is looking for in these conversations.

Validation can also be used to diffuse arguments and reduce tense situations. It does not mean that you have to agree with the person, rather you are acknowledging that you have heard what they have to say and acknowledge what they feel is valid. In customer service and support, we often times deal with upset and emotional customers. Before, I would be afraid to engage with customers emotionally, thinking it would add to their fire. However, recently, I’ve learned that adding phrases to validate a customers’ frustrations or anger can turn a support experience around. Phrases like, “I totally understand that you’re upset with the time it’s taken to resolve the issue” or “That sounds like a really appalling experience. I’m sorry about that” let the customers know I am on their side. To which, most customers respond, “It’s alright, I know it’s not your fault.” Even if they knows that their request will not be fulfilled as desired, they are calmed down, knowing that their frustrations were at least heard and warranted. Afterwards, in support, we then document customer requests for consideration in the next product release.

Validation can also be applied at a personal level. Even if someone does not validate your feelings and emotions, do you accept and validate them yourself? Or do you dismiss them as irrational and unacceptable? Something I’ve learned this year is that being an adult means parenting and validating yourself (more on that in a further blog post).

So how can we practice validation? The first step is being fully present, not distracted when someone is with you and speaking to you. Listen fully for understanding and communicate that you do. It seems simple but is deceptively difficult to master. I recommend reading Psychology Today’s article about the levels of validation and how to further apply them at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pieces-mind/201204/understanding-validation-way-communicate-acceptance .

Of course, there are things you do NOT want to validate. (Think of someone complaining about his/her first world problems). We also do not need to validate everyone we meet at the same level; rather, the level of validation should match the depth and importance of your relationship. So if there is someone you really care about and you want to deepen your relationship, practicing this skill is vital.

Good luck, heroes on the journey, and here’s to having super relationships!

Posted on November 25, 2014 and filed under Psychology, Relationships.