I recently received the following email from a reader:
Hello Mr. Sorensen,
I am reading your book “I Hear You” on Amazon Kindle.
It is a very interesting concept, this idea of validation, and one worthy of investigation and application, no doubt.
The very notion that even in trying to help or advise you might be pushing someone further away is novel. It also rings true.
Which brings me to the point of this email:
I have told my wife and companion of thirty years about your book and she has read some of it.
We are wondering about the effectiveness of the techniques/steps if in fact both parties to the discussion are aware of those techniques/steps. Meaning, might it not come across as disingenuous to voice things in such a way (it seems like that guy made you feel bad, etc) if the other knows that you are parroting language designed to validate? In other words, does mutual awareness of the validation effort invalidate the validation effort?
You did point out at in the book that anything disingenuous in this process will be sniffed out and might be lethal to the process.
So how do we who are both aware get around that paradoxical issue?
I ask sincerely, not as a challenge to your premise or ideas, because I believe validation would and could be extremely helpful. Having once worked in sales, however, my alarms go off when I get anywhere near canned speech (“that’s true, wouldn’t you agree?” was a big one from the eighties).
Looking forward to reading your response, and thank you for sharing your ideas and book.
– A Curious Reader
It’s an excellent question, and something I’ve been exploring myself, as of late. Here are my thoughts.
You Have To Connect
He is correct that, when one or both parties in a relationship are still learning how to validate, it can be a bit of a bumpy road. Effective validation requires sincerity and empathy, and if we’re not careful, it can come across as disingenuous.
I experience this from time-to-time with a friend of mine, who is working on improving his validation skills. From time to time, I’ll feel like he’s trying to do it “right” rather than making sure he’s emotionally connected, and it comes across as disingenuous. (Though I can’t blame him—trying to validate a guy who wrote a book on validation is no-doubt intimidating!)
He might say, for example, “That’s so hard. I think I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes.” (With relatively little emotion.)
In this instance, it’s clear to me that he’s trying to validate me, but it’s a bit off-putting because it feels a little too calculated. In these instances, I find myself wishing he had just said, “That is so hard…” and leaving it at that. The first response feels sympathetic and outside-looking-in (i.e. “poor you”), whereas the second feels empathetic and connected (i.e. “ugh, this is hard”).
A Bit of Clarification
I believe he (and others) get tripped up when they first learn about validation because I teach that effective validation has two main components:
- Identification of an emotion
- Justification for feeling that emotion
If we’re not careful, though, the “justification” part can come across as patronizing or mechanical. I see this happen most commonly when people use phrasing that isn’t true to their normal way of speaking (e.g. “I would probably feel the same way if I were in your shoes” (with little emotion) vs. “Of course you’re upset!!” (with more sincere emotion)).
The truth is, the justification piece is often conveyed more through the tone and emotion of our response than it is through the exact words we use. Hence, simply saying “That is so hard,” with real empathy, may offer all the validation needed.
So, to answer the reader’s question more directly:
Validation is every bit as effective—even when we know we’re being validated—as long as the validation feels authentic and sincere.
Case in Point
I’ll end with one final [positive] example:
My immediate family is (as you’d expect) very familiar with validation at this point. We talk about it candidly, though, and even acknowledge the fact that we are validating the other person mid-conversation. For example, we might say, “Well, first off, just to offer a little validation, you’re not crazy for feeling that way…” and it’s every bit as helpful.
We all want validation. So as long as it feels sincere when the other person is offering it, it can actually be more connecting when we recognize it. If we feel validated, after all, it means the other person is connected with us, hearing us, and understanding us. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re all yearning for in our relationships?