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As I continue to share the power of validation—whether through my book, speaking engagements, podcast interviews, etc.—I receive thoughtful questions from readers and listeners that dig deeper into the day-to-day application of this versatile skill. Today, I’d like to address the question that I receive more than any other:
I can see how validation is important in a relationship, but what if I don’t agree with what the other person is saying? What if their perspective is so out of whack that I don’t want to support it?
It’s an important question. Emotional validation is an immensely powerful way to show support and appreciation for another individual. Few things will have a greater impact on your personal and professional relationships than learning how and when to validate. Yet no two people—and no two situations—are exactly alike, making mastery of the skill a bit more difficult than one might expect.
When Validation Gets Tricky
In most instances, when someone comes to us in anger, frustration, overwhelm, sadness, etc., we want to help. If the other person is dealing with something we, too, would get angry about, it’s easy to validate their emotions:
“Wow, he really said that??”
“No way. I’d be ticked!”
This gets trickier, however, if we don’t agree with how the other person is seeing things.
Let’s say you’re talking with a person who feels they’ve been treated unfairly, but you know there’s more to the story.
You could do what most people do, and immediately tell this person that they’re being irrational and/or assure them that everything will be alright.
But if you’ve read my book (or earlier article on the subject), you know that doing so will likely do more harm than good. The other person will either push back or withdraw, and be less likely to confide with you in the future.
This is because the other person won’t be able to deal with their anger—nor will they be open to your advice or alternate explanation—until they feel heard and understood.
We should therefore [nearly] always aim to validate the other person’s emotions, even when we disagree with what they’re saying.
“But Michael,” you may say, “I’ve tried this, validated the person a dozen different times, and they just keep complaining (or accusing me, or going in circles…).” To that I will say two things:
- If “they keep complaining, and don’t take any responsibility,” pause here, and jump to this post or this podcast episode.
- If you feel manipulated, gaslit, or otherwise like the other person is taking advantage of you, pause here, and jump to this post.
For the rest of you, continue reading.
“Validating” Doesn’t Mean “Agreeing”
When we validate, we’re not saying, “you’re right, he meant to hurt you.” Instead, we’re saying, “I understand why you’d think that—I’d be just as angry, given the same background, limited information, emotional state, etc.”
While it may not seem like it at first, most people’s reactions (even the seemingly irrational ones) make perfect sense once you truly understand where that person is coming from. You may need to think about their background, their fears, their hopes, the fact that they might not have all the details, etc. but—more often than not—you’ll find that their response is actually quite reasonable given the situation.
But What If I Still Think They’re Being Irrational?
If you’re having a hard time validating someone because you don’t agree with (or can’t empathize with) what they’re experiencing, try asking a few information-seeking questions to better understand.
“What about that do you feel is unfair?”
“Then what did he say?”
“Did he tell you that, or did you hear it from someone else?”
Once you are able to recognize how they’re misreading the situation, you can better appreciate their reaction and the validity of their feelings. If you can’t connect emotionally, hopefully you can at least reach a logical understanding of how they arrived at their conclusion.
You might then say:
“I see that. If you felt like he was going behind your back like that, it makes complete sense that you’d be angry.”
That comment is validating because it gives the other person permission to feel what they’re feeling. It shows that you’re not judging them for reacting the way they are. You’re saying—in complete honesty—that it does make sense to react the way they have, given their perspective and experience.
Can I Ever Share My Opinion or Give Advice?
“So that’s it?” you ask. “I just have to sit there while someone complains to me and keep my arguments or solutions to myself?”
Not at all.
Validation simply sets you up for a more effective conversation. Once the other person feels heard and understood, they will be significantly more likely to accept your side of the story.
ProTip: Most of us jump at the opportunity to give advice. If that advice is unsolicited, however, it’s not always appreciated. Instead of launching right in to your brilliant idea, consider asking if the other person wants it. Asking permission to share your thoughts shows a tremendous amount of respect for the other individual and, in turn, makes them much more receptive. This might look like any of the following:
“This is obviously a difficult situation. I have a few additional insights if you’d like to hear them?”
“Goodness. I do have some thoughts…may I share?”
“That is tough. And, I don’t think you’re seeing it clearly. May I explain?”
“I don’t blame you for being upset—from the information you had, it absolutely looked like that. May I share what really happened?”
It is absolutely appropriate to correct misinformation, call out harmful thinking, present your side to the story, or otherwise provide a second perspective. Just make sure you’ve effectively listened and validated first.
Is All This Really Worth It?
Perhaps this example, taken from my book, will illustrate:
Years ago, a coworker came into my office and asked to talk. He sat down and began to express concern that another coworker, whom I had put in charge of a few rather menial tasks, was underqualified and might produce work inconsistent with our brand.
I listened as this coworker expressed his concerns. After a moment or two, I tried to jump in and assure him that I had it taken care of. My reassurance appeared to go in one ear and out the other, though, and he then expressed concern about my own creative experience and ability.
A feeling of wounded pride began to well up inside me as I fought to keep my cool and avoid getting defensive. Despite my efforts, it wasn’t long before I began listing for him my education and experience in a futile attempt to convince him that I did, in fact, know what I was doing.
After a couple attempts to make him feel better in this way (while also defending my ego), I realized it wasn’t working. He continued to restate his original points over and over and continued to raise new concerns. We were talking in circles, and he clearly wasn’t hearing me.
Then, I took a step back and realized I was handling this all wrong. I had jumped right to trying to fix the problem before acknowledging and validating his concerns. He wasn’t hearing me because I wasn’t hearing him. I paused for a moment, listened closer to what he was saying, and tried to understand what he was feeling. I realized that, from the limited information he had, he did have reason to be concerned.
I paused for a moment, and then said, “You know what, Jace? I can absolutely see why you’re concerned. Without hearing all the discussion and project details, you just see this guy suddenly working on projects for which he’s not the most qualified—I whole-heartedly agree with you there. You’re basically left to wonder who’s driving these projects, if you’ll get to have any say in the creative direction, etc. I’d be concerned too if I were in your shoes.”
“Yeah,” he said, the relief audible in his voice. “That’s exactly it. I’m just concerned that he doesn’t have the experience and skill for these types of projects.”
“Aha!” I thought to myself, “progress!” Recognizing that one validating comment had finally broken us out of the endless cycle of argument, I continued:
“I totally get why you’re concerned, and I very much appreciate your keeping an eye out for the company. I also appreciate you bringing this up to me, as I know these kinds of conversation aren’t easy to have.”
“Yeah seriously, Michael,” he said with an even deeper sigh of relief. “I don’t think you have any idea how hard this is for me to have this conversation with you right now.”
By this point, the tension in the conversation had eased significantly, and Jace, now feeling heard and understood, was finally open to my perspective. I explained to him that I too felt this individual was not the best fit for the position, but that he was qualified enough for these particular projects. I assured Jace that I would be working closely with this person to ensure quality work and that I wanted Jace’s help in executing a few key elements.
“Thank you, Michael,” he said, “that is what I needed to hear. I feel much better about this now.” He left my office and we carried on with our work.
Notice how (after a little trial and error on my part), I was able to validate Jace’s concerns without ever saying, “You’re right. He shouldn’t be working on this.” If I hadn’t paused to understand and validate his concerns, our conversation could have continued for hours with little or no resolution.
If someone is distraught, angry, or concerned, validating them is your best chance at getting them to be receptive to feedback. The great thing is, you can validate someone even if you disagree with them. Learning to do so will give you a valuable tool for navigating confrontations, negotiations, disagreements, and the like.
Looking for more? Dive deep into the topic of validation with the Extraordinary Relationships Master Course. This self-paced, video-based training program will not only make you a master at validation, it will teach you the invaluable skills of boundary-setting, conflict management, vulnerability, and much much more. Watch a free preview here.
47 thoughts on “How to Validate Someone When You Don’t Agree With Them”
I like the advice and reasoning, however some of the wording in example responses is quite problematic. Asking someone if you can share “what really happened” is extremely presumptuous, especially if they weren’t even there or if they don’t know the people involved. And honestly, even if they do, there is no right or wrong for reactions to things – everyone’s experience of things is UNIQUE, and VALID. You can’t tell someone their experience is wrong or invalid or not what really happened, it doesn’t work that way. If they had a really bad experience they can go to therapy and try to work through it. If you are really a friend, just be there for your friend and support them, what are friends for?
Thank you, Lola—I’m glad you brought this up. I see now that that example, without more context, can send the wrong message. I was imagining an argument where the upset individual heard untrue rumors about the other person. In that instance, the person validating (the one who *was* there) could still validate the other person’s emotions (they are upset because of what they *heard* happened), while also sharing more details surrounding the experience.
You are spot-on that telling someone that what they experienced wasn’t “real,” or that they are in some way being irrational, is presumptuous, disrespectful, and counter productive. I’m a big proponent of non-judgment, and allowing people the space to properly deal with and process difficult emotions. Thank you for weighing in!
This was perfect validation with clarification. I have learnt a lot from the article as someone who is always feeling invalidated in my relationship. It makes more sense to me now why I resent my partner. I never felt heard or understood. I’m dismissed or discounted with these invalidations.
I’m happy to hear you’ve found it insightful. And I’m sorry to hear that you feel invalidated in your relationship—that’s never a fun feeling and can certainly put a strain on a relationship.
If you haven’t read it already, I published an article with some thoughts on how to handle such a situation that you might find helpful: https://michaelssorensen.com/2019/06/19/what-to-do-if-your-partner-isnt-great-at-listening-or-validating/
Now if only I can remember this while in the heat of the moment.
Agreed! Easier said than done…
I found this article very helpful as my husband likes to vent about things we don’t always see eye to eye on with parenting. Today was a perfect example and I started to feel overwhelmed by his venting because I didn’t agree. I felt myself shutting down. But I did validate his feelings without having to agree after I quickly found and read this article. Thanks.
Thank you for taking the time to share. It’s not always an easy thing to do, so kudos to you for putting it into practice.
Great article but how do validate someone’s feeling when they are angry with you, which you feel they are not justified or and being irrational?
Excellent question—I think I’ll write a post about how to address that specifically. Subscribe to the blog to be notified when it posts!
Hi Michael! Thanks for the great and interesting articles. These really have me thinking about some positive changes I can make I’m my relationships. I’m also interested in the question above about providinv validation when someone is angry at you but you don’t agree with them as to the reason why they are angry. How can I subscribe to your blog so that I can see that article if it gets posted in the future? I could not find an option to do that.
Thrilled to hear you’re finding the content valuable. Regarding subscribing to the blog, there is now a form available at the very bottom of the page to subscribe. (You’re not crazy—it wasn’t there until this morning. 😉 )
I’m hoping to get that article up early next week and will look forward to hearing your thoughts.
What if validating people is exhausting for me? I feel like I spend a lot of time being peoples’ sounding board and it makes me feel like their counselor rather than simply a coworker, employee, or aquaintance where I just want a superficial but productive relationship. Do I just have to suck it up because we both exist in the same space and have to work or have hobbies together? I notice people that are more insecure seem to need validation most often. It makes me tired and I don’t completely understand it because I don’t find myself needing outside validation all that often from most people. Any thoughts or advice on this?
I’m glad you’ve brought this up, as you’re not the first to pose the question, and I’m getting it enough that I have begun a more in-depth article on the subject. (Update: the article can now be found here.)
The short answer is this: you do not need to always be at people’s beck and call, and you should always tend to your own emotional health and happiness first, before trying to help others. (Think of the “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others” principle from airline safety briefings). Most everyone will run into situations like what you’ve described—where no matter how much you validate, the other person keeps coming back for more and it begins to damage the relationship.
Depending on the nature of that relationship, you’ll either set boundaries, give them feedback on how their negative attitude is affecting you, change the way you interact with them, or simply work away from having a relationship with them. I’ll put some thoughts together into a more formal article in the next week or so, so subscribe to the blog or check back later.
I had such a great read. I have a friend who has never opened up to me before and suddenly he’s started messaging me about a concern of his so I wanted to be a good listener as much as I can for him, thanks for the tips. I replied here because I would like to know if you’ve written another article regarding this concern, because I kind of relate to SS to.
Let me know and I’d be glad to read, thanks!
Thank you! Perhaps you’ll find the following article helpful: https://michaelssorensen.com/2019/10/24/what-do-i-do-if-my-partner-is-constantly-complaining/
Thank you for the great insights. it’s very helpful. It will help me in my day-to-day relationships and in writing my book to be more understanding of the readers’ feelings in a friendly way.
Happy to hear that. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
Very helpful article. Love the way you included a great example/ the meaning of empathy as an example of how to show validation without agreement: “I understand why you’d think that—I’d be just as [ ], given the same background, limited information, emotional state, etc.”
For me, it’s helpful to separate validation from justification; and by that I mean, I can validate someone’s experience without justifying their response to that experience.
Validating someone’s experience is expressing empathy towards that person. I experience validation as a away to show respect for another human being.
“I experience validation as a way to show respect for another human being.” <-- I absolutely love that. You're spot on! Michael
So how does validation work in extreme circumstances? For example, with an abusive person? If someone beats up their wife and talks to you about it, how does validation work? If Hitler were to sit down with you and discuss about how he was intending to gas millions of Jews how would validation work? If a person is always late to work by two hours and you address it, and their response is to say ‘they don’t think it is a problem and they think it’s ok’, how does validation work? If someone tells someone they are nauseating and the person charged with being this says being told they are nauseating is upsetting, and the person who said it, plays a game saying ‘they don’t see saying someone is nauseating as a negative’? How does validation work in such situations? Are we never allowed to tell someone they are wrong?
In such instances isn’t it healthier to not validate? I am not being disingenuous, people have been talking a lot about validation and I am struggling to understand how to apply it it heinous and egregious situations. I have looked everywhere and can’t find dialogue on ‘validation’ in these situations and I want to understand.
My recent article, When Validation is Not the Answer, may address at least a few of your questions. Your question about whether we need to just be okay when people are always late, or people who don’t accept our feedback or requests to change, is addressed in my podcast episode and article on boundaries.
In general, though, heinous and egregious circumstances are absolutely not going to be solved by simply validating. Instead, I’d encourage you to look at validation as a tool—one that can likely still play an important role in the conversation or intervention—to help reach the best possible outcome.
In fact, former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss shares in his book, Never Split the Difference, how the FBI regularly uses validation in high-stakes hostage negotiations. These are situations where people are often not in their right mind, and are threatening to harm or kill dozens or hundreds of people, and validation still plays a key role in reaching a resolution.
After reading several of your articles, It is quite obvious that your responses follow your advice on how to validate when you don’t agree. I also read in another article that your wife uses this method as well. I’m curious…if both people are aware of the method, does it sometimes get viewed as more of a “tactic” to politely disagree than a sincere validation of their feelings?
Thank you for commenting. I actually addressed that very question in the following article: https://michaelssorensen.com/does-validation-lose-its-power-when-both-people-know-about-it/
In short: yes, there can be times when validation feels more clinical than sincere, or when I’m consciously aware of someone validating me. It really all boils down to sincerity, though. If someone disagrees with me, yet is able to effectively validate the points they *can* agree on, it’s every bit as effective and appreciated.
This is most needed for Feelers (NF and SF) in MBTI terms. They require the most handholding to have conversations with. When I’m talking to Thinkers (NTs and STs) I don’t have to spend an hour validating them until they feel understood enough for me to give my opinion.
So, what do I do– I just say what I feel needs to be said, and if it turns off the more emotional types, then so be it. I’m willing to engage and explain myself, and if they can’t help this with a ton of coddling, then too bad???
I just get sick of the more emotional types always acting so tyrannical in these situations because when I’m dealing with thinkers we can disagree, give corrections, share opinions and keep things flowing without caring if one person is upset.
I don’t blame you for a second for not wanting to sit and validate people for hours on end. And I don’t. I am a big proponent of boundaries, and strong believer that we are all responsible for our own happiness. (I preach often that we cannot “make” other people angry, “make” them sad, etc. nor should we try to.)
I have also found that, in most situations, I can validate someone and get right into my feedback in a matter of minutes—if not seconds. I’m not at all a proponent of coddling or walking on eggshells around people. We can be empathic and validating, while also being direct, assertive, boundaried, and efficient.
As with anything in life, there is a need to find the proper balance in difficult conversations. Certainly, if it’s working for you to get right to the point and duke it out with others, and all ends well with respect and understanding, then more power to you!
My girlfriend forwarded me your article. She has a friend that relayed a bad experience at a home improvement store and wanted me to validate her friend’s feelings through her anger for her friend. I didn’t want to do that because neither one of us were there to experience what her friend did, now she’s pissed at me.
I’m not certain I understand the situation – your girlfriend wanted you to validate her friend?
Also, had that happened to her personally, not only what I have validated her feelings, I would have gone down to the store and handled it myself.
Nothing can ruin relationships faster than lack of empathy or invalidation.
I experienced trauma last year that left me unable to work for a few months. I had two friends that constantly gave me “unsolicited advice” to “fix me.” In order to save money while I healed, I moved in with a not as a close friend. She gave me the greatest gift anyone has ever given me – she held space for me while having her own boundaries (https://upliftconnect.com/hold-space/). She just listened. It was more healing than all of the unhelpful unsolicited advice aka judgment my “fixers” poured upon me. I realized she and I didn’t have these drawn-out, circular conversations about my experiences, as I had with my two friends, because I didn’t feel like I needed to give them enough details or defend my feelings so they could be validated “rational” or “right” for them.
Stumbled across this page for insight on how to express this to my friends in effort to try to repair our relationships.
Accepting a person is not about condoning behavior, buying into their reality, or even understanding them. Its accepting that this is how the person’s feeling, thinks, believes, and operates and responding effectively.
Thank you, Abril. I couldn’t agree more.
Thanks for sharing that link, to a great article! Both articles have already given me some insight. What do you do when someone who feels consistently invalidated, is not doing it for others because they are so used to giving up? How can you communicate with someone who has valid emotions, but that you feel they invalidate yours, and you disagree?
This info has been very helpful to me. I have recently questioned why I vent so much, and learnt that I am one who seeks EV. I have learnt a great deal about myself from these pages and how I can grow, change my behaviour and adjust my expectations. Also I need to develop more confidence, lean less on others, if my work or behaviour meets a standard, draw confidence and EV from that, don’t seek it further.
Thanks for the comment. That’s good insight—-valuable to understand. Kudos to you for looking inward and working on yourself. That’s powerful, what you just mentioned. Thank you for sharing.
Hi, I think that this is pretty good piece and that most of your observations are sound. (That’s big of me, isn’t it? ) But could I just make a couple of observations?
In your case study, taken from your book, you refer to having placed an “under qualified” coworker in charge of “a few menial projects”. People will read this differently, of course, but to me that could come over as slightly belittling – both in terms of the capabilities of the person involved, and in the level of “importance” being assigned to the roles being fulfilled.
This “impression” could then be further compounded as in trying to “identify” with Jace, to understand where HE is coming from, you then go on to, potentially, further undermine the unnamed worker by agreeing that whilst he’s not necessarily the best fit for the job, he’s essentially good enough.
Also, it’s not clear to me whether Jace himself was in a senior enough position to warrant your discussing another employees relative merits, albeit indirectly.
If Jace was a fellow manager, who perhaps had a right to expect input into the choice, he is, perhaps, owed that sort of explanation.
If he was simply a peer of the coworker, I think you’ve potentially, and unintentionally, undermined the other chap.
Now, maybe you feel I’m nitpicking here although that is not my intent. I do understand the bigger point you’re making and, of course, I wasn’t there to hear the words you actually said. But when faced with a similar situation with coworkers of similar “standing”, I’d suggest it might be better to chose to emphasise the positive deployment of the resources best suited to the another, bigger job – leaving Jace to infer that the lesser able individual was placed in a lower value job – without my actually having to “agree” that that was the case. Just my two-penny worth.
Thank you for your comment, as you raise some important observations and fair points.
To add some background to the situation, Jace was in a director role, and while he wasn’t this particular team member’s direct manager, he nevertheless had some stake in the project in question.
And as you suspected, there is much more background to the story than I’ve shared here—for privacy reasons as much as for brevity. Suffice it to say, prior to the project in question, this particular team member had demonstrated that he *was* under qualified for certain types of work, which had been made apparent by poor performance. So Jace’s fears were understandable and I felt it important to validate them.
I also agree wholeheartedly that speaking poorly of another team member—whether of similar standing or not—is unproductive and inappropriate. My conversation with Jace in this instance focused on helping him feel heard and understood, while also holding firm to my belief that this other team member *was* qualified for this particular project. So while I can appreciate how my retelling of the story here doesn’t make that clear, it was generally positive toward the other employee, and focused more on what I needed Jace to do to help.
I hope that color helps to better understand the story?
Thank you for your reply, Michael. The additional information does, indeed, explain why you did what you did. I did wonder if there was more to this story than met the eye, but I made my comments in good faith based on the information before me. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I do appreciate it. All the best.
I am going to use an extreme example here, but my aim is to better understand how to handle completely irrational, even hurtful, feelings and emotions and if/how to validate or get through. What if you are dealing with a family member who is extremely unequivocally racist? For example, a mother or father who passionately campaigns against black population, feels slavery and the holocaust is justified, etc.
You cannot just abandon your mother or father. And you are worried that any validation will only give resolve to this idea. In fact, any implication that they should not feel this way, results in “digging feet deeper in the sand” and the individual hating their target even more.
How would you recommend dealing with such a situation?
This is a tough situation, and you’re right to suspect that validation will be a valuable tool in helping you navigate it. While it’s fairly easy to just walk away, or shut another person down, when we disagree and don’t care about damaging a relationship, it’s much harder to figure out how to disagree, hold your ground, and PRESERVE the relationship.
In the example you presented, I would take one of two approaches. The first would be to tell them that I’d like to “agree to disagree,” and then ask that we change the topic. (This is an example of a boundary, and one that would be entirely appropriate). If they continue to argue their point, I would set a firmer boundary such as telling them I will leave if they continue on in the conversation. “I love you and I disagree with you. And I would like to stay and keep talking, but not about this. Should I come back another time?”
The second approach I might take is one of curiosity. Asking as many questions as feel appropriate to better understand where the other person is coming from, to see if there is anything I CAN validate, to help them become more open to my perspective. So I might ask why those horrific actions were justified. Then I’d hear them out, and ask any follow-up questions that feel appropriate, until I feel I understand where their coming from.
I don’t have to (and likely won’t) agree with their viewpoint after that, but my goal will be to at least understand HOW they could come to such an extreme opinion. Most people generally act quite rationally, all things considered. Meaning most people’s actions and reactions are understandable once we fully understand their background, family upbringing, perception, trauma, etc. That doesn’t mean their viewpoint/opinion/interpretation is “right” or correct, but it often times IS fairly rational.
If I don’t find anything I feel I can validate, though, I will return to the first option: agree to disagree and set a boundary. But if I do uncover something I can validate (let’s say they witnessed or were a victim of a crime committed by someone of a particular race), I could validate that by saying, “that makes a lot of sense. Especially to have witnessed something so horrific.” And then, after a pause, say “AND, can you appreciate the fact that that doesn’t mean everyone is like that?” Or whatever my point is.
It’s all very situation dependent, but I hope that helps.
Thanks. Is there any room to attempt changing their mind? Or should one just not cross that boundary even if it means them stewing in their (hostile, negative) feelings?
That depends on whether or not you feel they’re open to changing their mind. In my experience, few people are open to alternate perspectives until they feel theirs has been heard and understood (which is where validation comes into play). However, there are plenty of times when people dig their heels in no matter what, and won’t change their opinion, even when validated and presented with the strongest counterarguments.
So in a situation like yours (whether hypothetical or real, I do not know), you may try to better understand their perspective, validate what you can, and then ask if they’re open to another perspective. Asking that question is big, as it shows respect, and invites them to verbalize whether they’re open or not.
The second thing I’d suggest you do is look at why you feel the need to change their opinion. Obviously, there is no place in this world for racism, so I think it’s important we speak up and help educate people and call them out when they’re not being respectful. And, if they choose to never change, it can be helpful to understand how that is affecting you. Can you get comfortable with knowing that you disagree on those points, and still love them and be around them anyway? (Perhaps with boundaries around conversations that could lead to racist remarks?) Or are their comments and actions so inappropriate or uncomfortable that you need to distance yourself from them? If the latter, you can tell them as much, such as saying, “I love you, AND I can’t listen to you talk like that. So if you’re unwilling to change, I’m no longer comfortable coming over.” (Another boundary).
Not an easy situation, no matter how you look at it.
Thanks alot for the responses. Appreciate it. Trying to learn what I can about this validation concept as a loved one is in a bad place with alot of negative emotions but is getting extremely angry and keeps saying he feels invalidated.
Hi Michael! I am having a hard time with a relationship between myself and my sister-in-law, that I desperately want to salvage. She feels as though, in all of her relationships with my family (she never points to her own) that no one “acknowledges” her feelings. I have tried very hard to make progress internally and put my ego and my own struggles aside to try and give her what she wants, because I do love her. I do value our relationship. Right now we are in the middle of a disagreement, and I am struggling with how to respond because what she really wants is for me to agree, hold myself accountable for others, and then apologize…even though these actions won’t change the past or the future. I don’t know how to validate her (since I feel that I have already done so, intentionally) and also point out that I disagree, AND that you cant argue opinions and feelings. There is no right and wrong here. What do I do?
Hey Michael I can definitely see how Validating ones feelings can help ensure a productive conversation when it comes to conflict.
Question what do you do when you feel even though you validate their feelings you’re constantly expected to each time they jump to their conclusion after conclusion, assassinating your character in the process. It’s like they start little fires everywhere and I’m expected to put one out one right after the other. It’s pretty exhausting having to be guilty until proven innocent. All the whiles the other person also ignores all the other finer parts of a productive conversation etiquette . They make assumptions, they jump to conclusions, they get aggressive, they talk over or interrupt you, they curse at you, they gaslight you. Not only am I expected to keep my cool they but want their feelings validated on command. They also haven’t done the emotional work to pinpoint their issues or articulate them properly enough for you to validate their experience but expect you to fix them. They even demand apologies even after you give them clarity and prove your innocence because apparently validating them first is more important.
That’s a tough situation. My article on what to do when someone is constantly complaining, and my podcast episodes on boundaries here and here may help, as you’re right—you can’t just lay back and validate, validate, validate all day every day and expect things to change. Validation is a tool, but rarely the only tool needed for more difficult situations. The above articles provide a little more direction.
Very good article with practical advice. I do try to listen and validate my wife’s opinions and I know I can do better, but it seems in our situation, my wife tries to force me into agreeing with her. If I try to politely express disagreement and that I feel disagreeing should be okay, she’ll typically suggest I’m not understanding her and she’ll repeat her argument over. They cycle repeats itself until there is usually enough frustration on both sides that it does not end in a positive manner. Sometimes that ending is preceded with me asking if we can just agree to disagree. She hates that expression I’ve now learned and she feels that it’s just a way to shut down a conversation. I agree that if used prematurely that is a fair conclusion, but at a certain point, it should be okay to just agree to disagree if it’s an opinion about something not critical that agreement or compromise be achieved. She feels saying “agree to disagree” is never okay. If I disagree and don’t want to continue the discussion, she says I should divert the conversation elsewhere. Of course that just sets the stage for the discussion to continue again at a later date as there was never any agreement that we disagree. According to her, I’m still just not understanding her. I disagree with her that it’s rude to use the expression agree to disagree, if attempts at listening, validating, and understanding have been were made and the phrase is presented as a question “can we just agree to disagree” versus hostilely stating “we’ll just have to agree to disagree”. Even on this topic, she insists I don’t understand what she’s saying. She’ll often say you can’t disagree with something you don’t understand. Obviously the debate continues, but we manage through. Just creates unnecessary friction and stress. Anyway, thanks for listening and open to any thoughts.
I agree that there are times when “agreeing to disagree” is the best option. Without better understanding the history and dynamics of your conversation, I couldn’t offer advice specific to your situation, but you are right that not every discussion has to end with the other person feeling perfectly understood and/or right. With arguments that aren’t central to your relationship (i.e. making sure you’re not avoiding difficult conversations that need to be had), it can be best for both people to just “agree to disagree” and move on.
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