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Published on:

7th May 2021

Validation As A Communication Skill

When we validate someone, we convey our acceptance of that person’s experiences, emotions, thoughts, and realities. Conversely, when we invalidate someone, we deny or minimize the importance of their issues and needs. Though validation is a common word these days, it’s not always clear how best to or even why we should engage in it. The fact is that every person’s experience is inherently valid and instead of exercising judgement, we should try and accept people as they are. However, acceptance must not be confused with agreement.

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For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home

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Transcript

Picture a couple having a discussion one day, that quickly turns heated. It goes a little something like this:

A: “So the doctor called and they have the results from my test back…”

B: “Oh my god, so what was the result?”

A: “Well, they said everything’s clear. The first test was just a fluke, apparently. There’s nothing to worry about.”

B: “What?! That’s amazing! I’m so glad to hear that! You must be so relieved…”

A: “Well, actually, I don’t know…”

B: “You’re not relieved?”

A: “It’s hard to explain. I guess I’m a bit…disappointed? That sounds strange. But I was really kind of expecting a scary result. And I almost feel a bit let down? I know that sounds silly…”

B: “That is silly. You’re crazy. You have no idea how lucky you are. We should go out to celebrate.”

A: “Uh, can we not? I’m just not feeling it…”

B: “What’s wrong with you? You’re being ridiculous. You don’t mean to say you wish the test was positive? That’s crazy…”

And so on. Can you imagine A continuing to try and explain how they really felt, with B rejecting the whole idea as bizarre, or even getting a little angry and judging A for not being grateful or excited? Consider how the conversation could have gone otherwise:

A: “So the doctor called and they have the results from my test back…”

B: “Oh my god, so what was the result?”

A: “Well, they said everything’s clear. The first test was just a fluke, apparently. There’s nothing to worry about.”

B: “What?! That’s amazing! I’m so glad to hear that! You must be so relieved…”

A: “Well, actually, I don’t know…”

B: “You’re not relieved?”

A: “It’s hard to explain. I guess I’m a bit…disappointed? That sounds strange. But I was really kind of expecting a scary result. And I almost feel a bit let down? I know that sounds silly…”

B: “No, it’s not silly. Can you explain what you mean? I’m pretty relieved to hear you’re OK, but you seem a little unsure…”

A: “Yeah, I don’t know…maybe I had already mentally prepared myself for it being positive…”

B: “Tell me more.”

Imagine the conversation then moving on to A explaining how they feel and why, with B listening closely, not so they could argue against A’s feelings, but so they could better understand and support them, even if they did seem strange.

What’s the difference in the second conversation? The answer is validation.

In this book, we’re going to be looking at the power of validation: what it is, what it isn’t, and how it can be used to deepen relationships, grow empathy and improve communication.

Validation is something that seems easy to understand conceptually, but can be subtle and difficult to grasp in real life. In trying to understand what validation is, it can be helpful to look at what it isn’t.

In the first conversation, B’s attitude was dismissive. By calling A silly, crazy, and ridiculous, the message was clear: the way that A felt (and by extension, A themselves) was wrong. In fact, B asks, “What’s wrong with you?” and then proceeds to say how A should feel. Granted, this is an extreme example (B is definitely a jerk in this scenario!), but we can clearly see the spirit of invalidation.

When we invalidate someone, we deny their experience. We contradict them, undermine them, doubt them, disagree with them or judge them. We tell them that what they feel or perceive is wrong, mistaken, useless, undesirable. We tell them that what they are going through is not really justifiable, legitimate or “logical.” Sometimes, we may act as though the way they feel is in violation of some objective reality, and they should be ashamed of their feelings. To sum it up, invalidation is about not accepting the person in front of us, as they are.

When we invalidate someone, what we might be responding to is their emotional reality, their thoughts, speech, behavior, beliefs, perspectives or ideas—but in the process we may more or less invalidate them as individuals. There’s a fine line between saying “your reaction is too much” and saying “you are too much.”

It may seem like invalidation is quite an aggressive thing to do, but in reality, invalidations can be small, subtle, and even take place under the guise of genuine concern or an attempt to help. For example, many parents will tell a frightened child not to be so silly, and that there’s nothing to be scared about. Though they intend to help, the message the child hears is “you’re wrong somehow.” If they shouldn’t be scared, but they are, what does that say about them?

Likewise, consider these small, yet nevertheless invalidating statements:

“You like mayonnaise with your fries? Weird.”

“Hey, don’t take it so personally!”

“You’re upset about your stressful job? What about people who don’t even have jobs—how do you think that makes them feel?”

“You’re not being reasonable right now, calm down.”

“Lots of people say they don’t want kids—but you’ll change your mind, just wait!”

Though we’ve all been the recipients of statements like the ones above—or maybe said things like this to others—it’s difficult to pinpoint just how invalidating they can be. What’s missing in the above sentiments? What makes them feel so bad to hear?

In the chapters that follow, we’ll understand validation as the act of acknowledging and accepting another person’s experience, i.e. communicating that it is inherently valid. Validation doesn’t mean we agree with the other person, or like what they are experiencing, or even understand it. But it does mean we recognize that their experience has the right to exist as it is. If we see someone is angry, we could try to push back against the anger, argue with it, deny it or avoid it; or, we could acknowledge that the person is angry, and that’s the way it is.

Many people struggle with giving validation because they genuinely cannot see the point. If someone is having a different internal experience to them, or their perceptions don’t match with what they consider “objective reality,” they seem to forget about the need to be compassionate, understanding or kind.

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Imagine, for example, that Jeremy has started to hear voices that aren’t there, and he’s petrified. He talks to a close friend about his concerns, but the friend immediately tells him that the voices aren’t there, he knows they aren’t there, so what’s the problem? The friend may start to talk about medications to get the voices to go away, but in his own way, he tells Jeremy that being afraid of imaginary voices doesn’t actually make sense.

Now imagine that Jeremy goes to a different friend. He shares his concerns and this friend looks not at what’s real and not real, what’s a reasonable reaction and what isn’t, but how Jeremy is actually feeling. They tell him that being afraid is normal and understandable. In other words, the objective facts of his experience are not as important as his internal, subjective experience. The first friend invalidated this experience, whereas the second validated it.

People who are quite practically minded may have trouble with the concept of validation because it seems more natural for them to look for obvious solutions, to gather data, to identify problems in the “real world” and fix them. They may mistakenly think that validation means agreeing with something that’s wrong, or doing nothing to actually remedy the problem.

But validation is an important and necessary part of human communication, even if it is not focused on verifying or solving an issue.

When we focus only on “facts,” we may miss the emotional content—which is often one of the more important reasons for communicating in the first place. Most of us like to think we are empathic and understanding, but mastering real validation can take some practice, and we all miss the mark sometimes. After all, who hasn’t tried to “cheer up” a friend when they felt down, reassuring them that things weren’t really so bad?

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About the Podcast

Social Skills Coaching
Real Steps and Insight to Make You More Likable, Productive, and Effective
While everyone wants to make themselves and their lives better, it has been hard to find specific, actionable steps to accomplish that. Until now...

Patrick King is a Social Interaction Specialist, in other words, a dating, online dating, image, and communication, and social skills coach based in San Francisco, California. He’s also a #1 Amazon best-selling dating and relationships author with the most popular online dating book on the market and writes frequently on dating, love, sex, and relationships.

He focuses on using his emotional intelligence and understanding of human interaction to break down emotional barriers, instill confidence, and equip people with the tools they need for success. No pickup artistry and no gimmicks, simply a thorough mastery of human psychology delivered with a dose of real talk.

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Russell Newton