The One Key That Makes or Breaks a Conversation
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have something of great value and not recognize it? Suppose for example, you owned a valuable picture, book, or rare coin and sold it in a garage sale only to discover the person who bought it became wealthy.
A few years ago, an individual purchased a bowl for $3 at a garage sale and proudly displayed it on a mantelpiece not knowing it’s value. Later when they had it appraised they learned it was a 1,000 year-old Chinese Ding bowl from the Northern Song Dynasty. On March 19th of this year, it sold in a Sothebys auction for $2.2 million dollars!
As an expert in relationship dynamics, I am amazed and perplexed by validation. Amazed at the positive effect it has in connecting people. Perplexed by the fact is rarely used in human interactions. Like the rare bowl, people don’t recognize the value it has in establishing a healthy bond and promoting positive change in others.
Human validation is an essential element in interpersonal relationships. This includes marriage, family, friendship, or business and/or work relationships. You may wonder why validation is so valuable. Let me explain.
Our brains are hardwired to live in harmonious relations with others. In other words, we are not meant to be alone. Research confirms this notion of the need for inter-relatedness. Humans also have an innate need for self-expression. Our personal thoughts, feelings, and unique skills seek opportunities for expression. Combined together, we have a need to know and be known by others. We have a need to be understood and accepted for who we are as unique individuals. Validation accomplishes this task.
What is Validation?
So you may be thinking, “What is validation? How does it work in human relationships?”. Let me explain.
Validation is the ability to convey an understanding of what another person is saying.
Here are a few examples…
Wife: The kids were pushing my buttons all day today. I’ve got a report to finish for work, and now you look upset because dinner isn’t cooked yet.
Husband: It sounds like you have had a stressful day. Last thing you need is for me to complain about dinner. Sounds like you need a break. Let’s order out.
Teenager: It’s not fair! My friends get to stay out past curfew. You’re too strict. Why don’t you trust me? I don’t know what the big deal is.
Parent: I can see you are angry. You think we are too strict and prefer we do what your friends’ parents do. I thought a lot of things were unfair too when I was your age. I don’t expect you to like or agree with our decision. However, in this case, you will have to accept it. It’s okay to be angry with us. I was angry at my parents too.
Notice in both examples, the person validating did not react. Rather, they conveyed an understanding of what the other person was attempting to express. In the case of the wife, she was stressed out and feeling pressure. The husband validated her feelings and offered a solution to reduce the stress. In the other example, the teenager was angry at the parent for enforcing a restriction on curfew. The parent validated the teen’s feelings, also identified with the unfairness issue, yet held firm to the rule while allowing the teen a right to his/her feelings. Validation can disarm a conflict fairly quickly.
When our internal thoughts and feelings do not have an outlet of expression we are left alone with them. Suppressed emotions can cause harm, especially if they are unpleasant feelings such as fear, anger, loneliness, or hurt. However, when we express them to others, we are able to release them and find relief. This exchange of expression and validation draws individuals closer because it meets a basic need of belongingness.
In my counseling practice I do a lot of work with couples recovering from infidelity. Validation of feelings plays a pivotal role in repairing the wound and rebuilding the trust in the relationship. The involved partner/spouse must be able to validate the feelings of the injured partner/spouse in a manner that brings relief to the emotional pain. This is a repeated process conveyed with an attitude of contriteness and empathy. Validation conveys understanding and the pain in that moment subsides. Over time, as this pattern of validation is repeated, the wound heals and the bond between the individuals strengthens.
Now I’ll introduce another valuable use of validation.
Validation as a form of affirmation.
In this context, validation recognizes an individual’s talents and abilities. When I was growing up I did not receive much validation, especially from my father. This is not his fault. You cannot give what you were not given yourself. His dad left home during the depression when my dad was a young lad. Sadly, he had to take on the role of provider in his early teens and took care of the family.
When I was in my early thirties, my dad watched me playing baseball with one of my sons. Afterwards he said to me, “Out of all my sons (4), you are probably the best athlete.” It was the first time I felt validated by my dad. Growing up I did not participate in athletics, mostly pick-up games of baseball and basketball. Now in my fifties, I still play full-court basketball two days a week. I often wonder what experiences I would have enjoyed had he made that statement earlier in my life.
Recently, I finished writing my first book, Bringing Respect Back: Communicating Without the Conflict. I was unaware of a talent for writing until much later in life. Up until now, I have published a few chapters in clinical books as a contributing author on topics within my area of expertise. Writing to the general public is a new venture. Before I published, I decided to have a couple of accomplished authors in the field read my manuscript and offer feedback. It’s one thing to hear your wife say your a good writer and another to hear it from professionals.
I am happy to report that the feedback I received was very positive and encouraging! These individuals validated my work as something worthy of publication. The effect it has on my ambition is powerful. I have noticed renewed motivation, energy, and focus to launch the book. Indeed, my confidence as a writer is growing as well. All because individuals I respect validated my skills as a writer.
How to Validate
Conversations are either reactive or responsive.
In reactive dialog, the conversation moves fast in a back-and-forth manner. People are only trying to make their own point. Two people in a reactive discussion will likely talk over each other, amp up their emotions (usually frustration and anger), and the issue is not resolved to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.
Responsive communication moves a little slower and is circular. One person talks, the other listens and validates. Then, the listener offers his/her point of view and the other responds back with validation.
Here are some steps for you to try in your next conversation.
- Listen first to what the other person is saying.
- Respond with a summary of what you heard.
- Offer your point of view.
- Ask them if they just understood what you are trying to say.
- Continue this process until you have brought the conversation to a conclusion.
Validation is valuable–when you use it. Let me close with ten benefits.
Benefits of Validation
- It strengthens relationships.
- It improves communication.
- It shows respect to the other person.
- It encourages expression.
- It conveys understanding.
- It decreases confusion and misunderstanding
- It disarms conflict.
- It repairs hurt and rebuilds trust.
- It affirms the unique talents and abilities of others.
- It empowers individuals to use their talents and abilities.
I encourage you to tune into the power of validation. It will require you to slow down and listen to others. Rather than focusing only on what you want to say, listen with equal intent. Convey back what you hear the other person say. Don’t judge or react. Simply acknowledge their thoughts and feelings. Practice this pattern and observe what happens over time. You will likely discover the value of validation.
By the way, I deal with this topic at length in my book coming out this summer entitled: “Bringing Respect Back: Communicating Without the Conflict“ (now available).