How to Validate Someone: The Four-Step Method

Validation—in my humble opinion—is the quickest, simplest, most powerful way to improve a relationship. While I wouldn’t call it a “shortcut” to connection (as lasting relationships require regular work in the form of quality time, vulnerability, empathy, and communication) it works instantly, in virtually every situation, and is the most versatile relationship tool in my toolbox.

Beyond improving your marriage or romantic relationships, sincere validation will improve relationships with your family, friends, neighbors, in-laws, manager(s), colleagues, and more. If you don’t believe me, just check out the reviews of my book on Audible or Amazon.

Effective (and Sincere) Validation Helps You:

  • Calm (and sometimes even eliminate) the concerns, fears, or uncertainties of others. This is especially helpful if your significant other is upset, if you’re dealing with irate customers or coworkers, or if you’re trying to reason with young children.
  • Add a boost to others’ excitement and happiness. This is an obvious gift to the other person, but studies have also shown that validating the positive experiences of others can drastically improve connection and satisfaction in a relationship.
  • Provide support and encouragement to others, even when you don’t know how to fix the problem. There is great confidence in knowing you can help someone in any situation, regardless of your own experience or expertise.
  • More easily show love, understanding, and compassion in your intimate relationships. Research (and common sense) show that this skill is critical to lasting, happy relationships.
  • Help others feel safe and comfortable confiding in you. This promotes deeper, more meaningful connection and increases others’ affinity toward you.
  • Avoid or quickly resolve arguments. Instead of butting heads and going in circles, you’ll save time, frustration, and headache by knowing how to calm the other party and make your point heard.
  • Give advice that sticks. When you understand and validate others, they become significantly more open to your advice, feedback, and/or assurance.
  • Improve your negotiations. Whether in business or any other area of life, validation helps you disarm your counterpart and more quickly reach a deal that you both feel great about.
  • Become an all-around more likeable human being. When you help someone feel heard and understood, they can’t help but develop a natural liking toward you. Humans have a deep-seated need to feel heard and appreciated. Those who sincerely fill those needs, therefore, are among the most loved and respected.

I dive into details on many of the above situations, as well as the studies referenced, in I Hear You. But if you’re just not into books (or are simply strapped for time), you can read my intro to emotional validation, listen to the podcast episode, or get right to the four-step validation method below.

The Four-Step Validation Method

While the concept of validation is relatively simple, knowing how to effectively implement it in your day-to-day can be a bit more difficult. The Four-Step Validation Method is a tried-and-true approach to giving validation and feedback in nearly any situation. I reverse-engineered it from thousands of successful validation experiences and boiled it down to four basic steps. Each step is accompanied by several key principles that provide additional insight and direction.

The method/framework is simple by design, allowing it to apply to everything from quick, lighthearted exchanges to lengthy, emotionally charged conversations. Because every interaction is unique, the way you implement the method will vary from case to case. In nearly every situation, however, the Four-Step Method will help you better connect with and support the other person. We will explore several examples of implementing the method in Part III.

Like riding a bike or playing an instrument, the skill of validation will become second-nature with practice. You will not always need to think, “Step 1 . . . Step 2 . . . Step 3 . . .” every time you talk with someone. With practice, you will comfortably and naturally flow through and adapt the method without giving it a second thought. Let’s get into it.

Overview of the Steps

  1. Listen Empathically
  2. Validate the Emotion
  3. Offer Advice or Encouragement
    (if appropriate)
  4. Validate the Emotion Again

In the spirit of brevity, I will simply summarize the key points of each step here. You can find a more detailed breakfown of each step, including specific examples and dialogue, in my book.

Step 1: Listen Empathically

Give your full attention. If you’re distracted, let the other person know and ask to talk at a later time. When you are available to talk, close your laptop, turn off the TV, and keep your attention on the conversation at hand.

Invite them to open up. If you suspect someone wants to talk about something but isn’t comfortable initiating the conversation, try asking a simple question like, “You seem upset. What’s up?”

Be observant. As much as 70 percent of our communication is nonverbal (source). Pay close attention to the other person’s tone of voice and body language to better understand them.

Match their energy. If the other person is happy or excited, then smile, laugh, and share in the thrill. If they are discouraged or sad, then be respectful and speak in a softer, more compassionate manner.

Offer micro validation. Offer short comments such as “no way!”, “seriously?”, or “I’d feel that way too” to help the other person feel comfortable sharing. This lets them know you that you are listening, withholding judgment, and seeing things from their perspective.

Don’t try to fix it. Refrain from offering advice, feedback, or assurance until step 3. Avoid comments such as “at least . . . ”, “you should . . . ”, or “that’s not true.”

Step 2: Validate the Emotion

Validate their emotion. Once there’s a pause in the conversation or the other person is done sharing, validate them more fully. This is best done by 1) acknowledging the emotions they’ve expressed, and 2) offering justification for feeling those emotions.

Validate, even if you disagree. Not only is it possible to validate someone you disagree with, it’s advantageous to do so. When you validate the other person, they become significantly more likely to listen to a differing opinion or advice. Once you show that you truly hear them, they will be much more likely to hear you.

Not sure what the other person is feeling? Ask. A simple question such as “How are you feeling about all this?” or “I imagine you’re pretty upset?” is often enough to get the clarity you need to validate.

If you can relate, consider letting them know. Use phrases such as “I can relate” or “I had a similar experience” instead of “I know exactly how you feel.” Be sure to turn the focus back to them after sharing your experience.

If you can’t relate, let them know. Acknowledging that you haven’t been in someone else’s shoes and don’tknow exactly how they feel can be incredibly validating.

Tell the truth. Resist the urge to lie to make someone feel better. Instead, acknowledge the truth, validate their emotions, then provide comfort and assurance in step 3.

Step 3: Offer Advice or Encouragement (if Appropriate)

Offering feedback or advice is entirely optional. Perhaps someone has shared an exciting or proud moment, or perhaps you simply have no advice to give. Validation is healing in and of itself. It is not always necessary or appropriate to give advice.

Avoid giving unsolicited feedback. Just because someone is sharing a difficult experience doesn’t mean they are looking for advice. Determine whether they are open to receiving feedback by either 1) asking what they are expecting from you (e.g., “How can I help?”), or 2) asking permission to give advice (e.g., “I have a few thoughts on the matter. May I share?”).

If you do give feedback, lead with a validating statement. Even though you just offered validation in step 2, prefacing your feedback with one more validating statement will reiterate the fact that you’ve heard them and are connected with their experience.

Use “and” instead of “but.” Doing so will help you avoid inadvertently negating your validation, comments, etc.

Lead with “I” instead of “You.” Using “I” underscores the fact that you are sharing your perspective or opinion. It also lessens the likelihood that the recipient will become defensive.

Avoid Absolutes. When giving difficult feedback, replace absolute terms such as “always” and “never” with softer (and often more accurate) alternatives such as “often” or “rarely.” If you do choose to use an absolute term, lead with “I think,” “I feel,” etc. instead of “you.”

Step 4: Validate Again

Re-validate the emotion. Whether you’ve given advice in step 3 or not, work in one final bit of validation at the end of the conversation. Doing so reiterates the fact that you hear and understand the other person and ends the conversation on a positive, emotionally uplifting note.

Validate the vulnerability. Sharing personal thoughts, experiences, or emotions can be difficult, uncomfortable, and even scary. If someone opens up to you, thank them for it and validate the fact that doing so can be quite difficult.

Putting it into Practice

The Four-Step Validation Method and its accompanying principles may seem like a lot to remember. The reality is, though, that in practice, you can go through them all in less than a minute. It’s also important to note that these steps are not a perfect science, nor must they all be followed in every conversation.

In certain situations, steps 1 and 2 (Listening Empathically and Validating the Emotion) may be enough. At other times, you may go through the whole set multiple times. Every situation will be different. You’ll know what feels natural and genuine in the moment and, with practice, you’ll find that validation becomes second nature.

Have you used the Four-Step Validation Method in your day-to-day communication? If so, how has it played out? Let me know in the comments below.

Further Reading:

When Validation is *Not* the Answer
What To Do If Your Partner Isn’t Great at Listening or Validating
How to Validate Someone When You Don’t Agree With Them
How Do You Validate Someone When They’re Angry With You?
Does Validation Lose Its Power When Both People Know About It?
I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

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