- Article (Original): Validation: The Most Powerful Relationship Skill You Were Never Taught
- Related Episode: Validation: The Most Powerful Relationship Skill You Were Never Taught
- Article: How to Validate Someone When You Don’t Agree With Them
- Article: How Do You Validate Someone When They’re Angry With You?
- Article: When Validation is *NOT* The Answer
Forgive typos and odd grammatical mistakes—this was transcribed using the magic of AI, and while it’s insanely awesome, it’s not perfect.
[00:00:00] Hello, hello, everybody, and welcome back to the I Hear You podcast. I’ve been looking forward to today’s episode because it takes a topic that I’m quite passionate about, validation, and provides a sort of advanced course for honing that skill. Now, if you haven’t read my book, or listened to my earlier episode on validation, or read one of my articles on my blog, you might want to pause this episode and go do one of those things first, because you’ll probably be a bit lost if you don’t.
5 Tips for Improving Your Validation
[00:00:29] Today, we’ll dive into five additional insights and tips that I don’t cover in my book that will help you take your validation game to the next level. And what that ultimately means, of course, is that you’ll feel better equipped to support others, you’ll develop deeper and more satisfying relationships and you’ll be more confident dealing with conflict in the workplace, in your marriage than really in any other relationship in your life. Let’s dive in.
[00:01:13] OK, before we get to the five items, a little fun fact here. Michael has a bit of social anxiety now around doing numbered lists. And if my assistant Ali is listening to this now, I’m sure she’s laughing because twice now I have accidentally left out one point. The first time was actually the ten ways to brighten someone’s day. If you listen to that and were actually taking notes, which is maybe kind of weird, I’m sure most you don’t take notes, but if you were, you’ll notice that there’s actually only nine in there. And, you know, I went back when we transcribed it and put it on the blog and we put the seventh one in there. So it’s the Easter egg that if you didn’t hear it, you can go back and read that. There are ten online, there are only nine on that episode. And then one of my more recent ones, I found out later that I actually had forgotten to record another point as well. I caught that one, thankfully, and was able to go back and rerecord and put it in there. So not that that really has anything to do with today’s episode, but I thought it’s kind of funny. And if in a future episode you recognize something’s missing, maybe cut me a little slack, it’s difficult to just use an outline and dive into these things here. So anyway, all of that aside, little insight into the imperfect Michael and the imperfect I Hear You podcast. All of that aside, I am excited to dive into the five advanced tips for honing your validation skills.
Tip #1: Empathy, Not Sympathy
[00:02:44] Tip number one is to make sure that your verbiage conveys empathy rather than sympathy. Now, I do talk about the difference between the two in my book and in my online articles. The reason that I’m stressing it here is that I see that a lot of people, as they’re practicing validation, still sometimes slip into sympathetic responses. And what I mean by that is that they feel like they are on the outside looking in and they can almost come across as patronizing. So, again, just a quick refresher here: sympathy generally is standing on the outside of someone’s situation, looking in and talking from that kind of distanced perspective. And saying things like, “that must be so hard for you” or, “I can really see how that would hurt.” Those two instances, while they’re kind and they’re a step toward validation, they’re not quite there because they’re still sympathetic, right? So if someone says, “that must be so hard for you.” Can you see how that can come across as patronizing? There can almost be an unexpressed understanding that you’re saying, “that’s so hard for you, it wouldn’t be hard for me. But I can see that that’s hard for you.” Now, of course, that’s not what we mean by it. And yet that’s how it often comes across. So the more empathic response, again, empathy means stepping down into the situation with them, at least figuratively speaking, and feeling how they’re feeling and then showing them, that’s where validation comes in, is showing them the empathy that you feel. Showing that you understand the emotion that they’re feeling. So rather than saying, “that must be so hard for you,” try, “that’s so hard.” Instead of saying, “I can see how that would hurt.” Try saying, “that’s painful. No doubt.” Do you see how those two tweaks feel more connected? They feel like you’re in it with them.
[00:04:43] So that’s what I mean in point number one here, by saying that we want to make sure our verbiage conveys empathy rather than sympathy. So as you go back and as you start analyzing your validating comments in the ways that you’re trying to connect with people, check to make sure that they are conveying that empathy and that they’re not distanced or detached by saying “that must be so hard for you” or, “I can see why that’s so painful” and instead transition it into those more empathic responses where you just say “that is hard, that is painful. Oh, I can totally see where you’re coming from there.”.
Tip #2: Proactive Validation
[00:05:21] All right, tip number two for honing your validation skills is to get in the habit of validating without being asked. Now, what I mean by this is, what I focus on primarily in my book and primarily when I travel and speak on this and do training’s, is how to respond to somebody in a validating way. Most of the time, people come to us and they are complaining or they’re venting or they’re sharing something they’re really excited about and they want validation on it. And we focus on sharing in that experience with them and validating their response, that’s powerful. That is huge. That’s something that most the world does not do. If we want to take it to the next level, try validating somebody before they ever bring anything to you. It’s essentially showing appreciation. And just yesterday, actually, I was browsing on Google three different articles on my phone, and I came across a study done by the O.C. Tanner Company. This was a 200,000 person global study. And they found that 79% of employees who quit their jobs cited a lack of appreciation as the key reason for leaving or as at least a key reason for leaving. Almost 80% of people who quit a job said it was because they didn’t feel appreciated. Now, sure, every now and then you might get an employee or a coworker who comes to you and says, look at what I did, isn’t this cool? And that hopefully will serve as a trigger for you to go, oh, I can validate this person. Great. Most of the time they’re not going to do that. Most of the time they’re going to just do good work. They’re gonna do their very best. They’re going to struggle through difficult situations and not say anything. And that is where you have an opportunity to take your management, if you’re a manager, take your friendship, if you’re a coworker, to the next level by recognizing and appreciating what they’re going through and offering the validation before they say a thing to you.
[00:07:24] So, for example, my boss actually did this a couple of months ago where we were talking about something, we had our normal one on one meeting and I was walking him through everything that was going on. And then right as we were about to wrap up, he turned to me and he just said, “by the way, thank you for everything you’re doing. You deal with a lot of stress, you deal with a lot of difficult situations and I know you’re managing a lot right now. You’re juggling several different projects. I want you to know that I see and I appreciate it, thank you.” That was amazing. It felt so good to feel appreciated. And again, what gave that power is he didn’t just say thanks for all you do, but he honed in on the specific items that he knew I was dealing with. He was validating the fact that I was dealing with some difficult personnel situations. He was validating the fact that I was juggling multiple projects. These were all things that I was wrestling with in my mind. And I conveyed to him, you know, at different periods throughout the past week or so. But he took the moment to volunteer in that moment and say, thank you. I recognize this. I’m validating what you’re going through. I want you to know that I see it and I appreciate it. So I tried to make a point of doing this in my own work life and recognizing people who go above and beyond and recognizing people who simply do a great job, even if it’s part of their day to day job responsibility for simply walking up to a coworker, a colleague or a direct report and saying, hey, by the way, I noticed that you stayed late to finish that project. It turned out really well. And I wanted you to know that’s something you should be proud of.
[00:09:05] You know, if you want to take it into your romantic relationships, it might be something as simple as recognizing that your partner did the dishes and, you know, maybe you say, well, it’s good that they did it because I’ve done it every other night this week. Instead of going there, maybe you can step into a position of love and appreciation and walk up to your partner and say, “by the way, thank you. I noticed that you did the dishes. And I know that you had a lot going on tonight that probably wasn’t at the top of your list. It really means a lot to me. Thank you.” That’s validating. And they didn’t have to say anything to you. That takes it to the next level. That really helps build charisma. You strengthen your charisma anytime you validate. You showed the other people that you interact with that you care about them any time you validate when you do it unsolicited. When you just approach and you volunteer this validation and this information and this appreciation, it gives it a little something extra, a little little something special to help them recognize that you care about them.
Tip #3: Focus on the Justification
[00:10:10] All right, tip number three for strengthening your validation skills is to put extra focus on the justification piece. Now, what I mean by that is if you remember back to when we talked about validation, effective validation has two components. It recognizes an emotion and offers justification for that emotion. So one of my favorite words, transition words to use here is the word “especially,” and this is something that you can use almost a shortcut, if you will. So maybe your friend is complaining to you about some guy that was really, really rude to her. And you might just say something like, “that hurts, especially since he didn’t even come back to apologize.” Or maybe, maybe you’re talking to a coworker, you’re on the customer service team and they just talked down a very angry customer for the fifth time and you say, “OK, that’s impressive how well you handled that customer, especially since that was your fifth angry customer today. That can’t be easy to keep your cool like that.” Both of those use the word especially. And I’m not saying you should always use the word, “especially” what I like about the word “especially,” though, is that it sets you up to really focus in on that justification piece. So it’s one thing to say, “that was impressive how you handled the customer.” That’s cool. That’s nice. But if you say, “that’s impressive how you handled that customer. Especially because X, Y and Z.” You’re really focusing in on the fact that you understand why that was so impressive or that you understand why this is so difficult for someone. So that’s that’s tip number three, to put a little more focus on the justification piece. Sometimes we’re tended to focus so much on the emotion that they’re sharing, which is important. You want to show them that you recognize how they’re feeling, there’s a lot of power in putting just a little extra effort into that justification piece.
[00:12:11] Now, some of you might be listening and say, well, I don’t really want to pile on all of this stuff. If somebody is upset, if we go back to that example of your friend who is feeling really angry at this other guy, you might think to yourself, well, if I say maybe she didn’t think about the fact that he didn’t even come back and apologize. And now if I’m offering that and saying, “oh, that sucks, especially because he didn’t do this.” Am I fueling the fire? Am I am I stoking it? Is that harmful?
[00:12:40] My thought on that is no. And the reason I say that is this, validation is so magical, so powerful, because we are opening up space for the other person to feel whatever they’re feeling. And sometimes if you take, for example, a flame, you know, a small burning fire and maybe it’s semi enclosed, but it’s burning, you know, it’s going. And then you open up the doors and all this extra oxygen flows in, oftentimes it flares up, because oxygen is part of the fuel that fire needs to keep burning. And so in that very instant, you might open the doors and go, “oh my gosh, I just made things 10 times worse because now they’re just oh, they’re feeling it all. Maybe that was the wrong thing to say.” Not necessarily, because by opening that up, you’re allowing it to burn. Oftentimes you’re helping it burn quicker and eventually it burns out, eventually it turns to ashes.
[00:13:43] And so if we take that metaphor or analogy with whatever it is, I always forget the difference and apply that back into emotion now, by allowing them space, by offering that justification, by saying “especially because of this or I can’t believe that” what you’re doing is you’re allowing them to feel that emotion well enough that they can process it. And nine times out of ten, it does fizzle out. They feel it well enough and it goes away, or they learn to handle it, or they decide to reach out to professional help if it’s something that’s bigger and needs that. So that’s why validation is powerful. And that’s why focusing in a little extra effort on the justification piece is quite powerful, because it really drives home the fact that you do understand where they’re coming from. You’re not just paying lip service.
Tip #4: Validate with Your Tone and Body Language
[00:14:32] All right, on to tip number four. Which is validating with just your tone and body language. This is interesting, this is something that I didn’t frankly pick up on while I was writing I Hear You because I was focusing so much on the obvious ways of validating it, trying to find a way to teach people. It’s tough to teach people body language and tone of voice in a book. What you can teach are the words, you can teach the principles and then let people adapt and apply it to their lives however, makes sense for them. Nevertheless, point number four here actually is quite powerful. So, right on the heels of talking about how you can really tweak your words and hone in and use the term, “especially,” follow it up with a lot of justification to improve it. You can also validate with little to no words at all. And again, it has those two components validation does emotion and justification. But you don’t always have to use a lot of words to get there. You could simply say, “sheesh.” And just sit in some silence there. Because what are you conveying with that type of response? Well, you are conveying some emotion, right? It’s probably shock, or awe, or disgust. And the justification piece is the very fact that you yourself feel the same way. It could also look like just saying, “oh, man.” Or, “I’m so sorry.” Or, “you have to be kidding me!” Orr even just, “again?” Or, really sincerely even just a look. Now you can’t see me, as a podcast audio, but even just raising your eyebrows to convey pure shock can be quite validating to someone. So if you’re talking to me and as you’re talking, I don’t even say anything, I just give you this look of complete shock on my face, that essentially says, “you’ve got to be kidding me. That’s so ridiculous. That’s so dumb. That’s so stupid.” That look alone is quite validating. Now, of course, most times you are going to follow up a look with a sentence or a phrase or something. But what I’m focusing it on here is the fact that that is important and that does strengthen your validation when you recognize that your own body language has a lot to do with how you’re communicating and what you’re conveying to this other person.
Tip #2: Look at Validation as a Tool, Not a Fix-All
[00:17:06] And last but not least, tip number five is to look at validation as a tool to connect rather than a fix-all for your relationships. Now, I bring this point up because sometimes people ask me, “well will validation fix this? How on earth can it repair that?” You know, this grave, this crazy situation, how can you say that validation is going to fix everything? Well, first off, I don’t make that claim that validation fixes everything. Validation is almost magical, I talk all about it in my book, I refer to it almost as a superpower. I mean, there’s a lot of power here in validation. Yet it is absolutely not a one size fits all technique that magically fixes everything. It’s a tool, it’s something you add to your communication skill set to help you show genuine empathy for and connection with another person. It’s sort of like walking into a Home Depot and telling an associate that you’re building a house and asking what tool you need. You can’t just build a whole house with a hammer. You can’t build a whole house with just a saw. You need to have multiple tools, you need to have multiple resources and multiple people. And then you have to know how to use them all together properly to build something. It’s no different with relationships and with personal happiness. In fact that’s why I’ve created this podcast, to help provide the additional tools, resources and insight that people need to build their houses, so to speak, going above and beyond just validation. Absolutely validation is powerful, and I cover several principles in that book and on my blog and there is more to it. So when you understand how to use validation alongside these other tools and other principles we’re talking about, that’s when you can create amazing things.
[00:19:04] So when someone asks me, as they did the other day, “Am I really just supposed to validate the guy who’s telling me he’s abusing his wife? Am I really supposed to just validate my coworker who thinks I screwed up and blames me for everything? Am I really supposed to just validate someone who’s constantly complaining to me and suck it up?” The obvious answer is no. You are not supposed to just validate those people. Though once you understand how to use validation properly alongside these other skills, such as boundaries, holding people accountable, personal responsibility, strong communication skills, you will want to validate. Because you’ll recognize the immense power it has to help resolve the situation. I mentioned because he mentioned abuse. I mean, he mentioned Hitler. I mean, this writer, who for the record, I am grateful for his question because he was sincere about it. Nevertheless, some pretty extreme examples here. That sounds a little crazy, why would you ever validate somebody like that? But if you think about it as validation as a tool, it helps you resolve the situation in the best way possible.
[00:20:20] Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss talks about this in his book. I link to it in the show notes here. It’s one of my favorite books, it’s called “Never Split the Difference,” because he talks in there about how validation is the very first skill the FBI uses during hostage negotiations. You’re literally dealing with someone who is threatening to kill dozens, if not hundreds of others and themselves and the FBI still starts off with a validation. Why is that? Well, because, again, as I say over and over on this podcast, if we want somebody to hear us, if we want even a prayer at having a rational conversation with someone, especially in these emotionally charged situations, especially in a situation where we don’t know if the other person’s even thinking clearly or rationally. Our best chance is to first hear them out, to first do our best to understand where they’re coming from. Now, of course, this is not the only skill the FBI uses. They know how to use that tool along with all the others and many others, I should say, to successfully de-escalate that situation.
[00:21:31] So I’ll wrap up this point here, with one very simple example that I dealt with just the other week, and that was working with a coworker of mine, a direct report who was complaining that they felt like they had zero autonomy and they weren’t able to move forward with projects that they had that they were working on. And I listened and I could appreciate where they were coming from. And I recognized that they were feeling that way because that was the truth. Six months, twelve months, 18 months ago, where we were still trying to figure out some processes and procedures here. And at that time, I jumped on that feedback and I did everything I could to improve their autonomy and to give them the tools and the resources that they needed to move quickly. And I will say that I made the necessary changes. Not perfectly, of course, can never get perfect in all of that. But I know that I did, because I received feedback from several other people who at one point felt stuck, who were now feeling very excited and very positive. This one individual still didn’t feel like there was a difference. And so first I validated their concern and I said, “you know what? I completely appreciate where you’re coming from, that was especially the case last year, I admit full well that you had a very difficult job and that you still have a very difficult job. And, I hope you can see here how all these other changes that we’ve made in the past several months have really given you a ton of autonomy.” And then we started a conversation and I asked this person to give me some examples of ways that they hadn’t been trusted, in ways they hadn’t been able to move things forward and they couldn’t point to any. And that was the start of a deeper conversation where we started to unpack things and I was able to use some of these other principles that I share on the podcast here to help have a candid conversation and give this person feedback and invite them to change their perception. Invite them to reassess the situation and hopefully recognize that things have improved, that they did have power and that I appreciated all the work that they have done and am very excited about the work that I believe they they can still do for the company. So I’m getting perhaps a bit long winded on this point number five here, looking at validation as a tool. But I wanted to give a couple of examples there, because if you’re listening to this podcast, if you made it to this episode, I imagine you’ve listened to others. I think you’re starting to realize the reality of this, that validation is versatile, it is universal. It can be applied to virtually every situation in a way that helps you manage that conversation that helps you connect better with that person.
[00:24:13] Now, not every situation. In fact, just recently I published an article on my blog about when validation is *not* the answer and as a bit of a spoiler, there’s only one instance that I have been able to find where it’s not the answer. And you might be surprised by that, you might be surprised by some of the additional areas where you wouldn’t think it helps, but it’s actually tremendously powerful. So I invite you, if that sounds at all interesting to you to check out my Website, michaelssorensen.com you’ll see the article on the blog there. But to wrap up point number five here, again, the reminder here is to look at validation as a tool and to really look at every conversation that you have and ask yourself, is there a way that validation can benefit here? Is there a way that I can use this to show the person that I care about them? Can I use validation here to calm the situation? Can I use validation here to show the person how I’m listening and that I want to work with them? This is an important paradigm shift. If you have been looking at validation as something that is just supposed to fix things once you validate.
[00:25:22] So let’s wrap up today’s episode with a quick summary. We’re talking about ways to really hone your validation skills. The first tip is to make sure your verbiage conveys empathy rather than sympathy. Tip number two is to work on validating without being asked for validation, observe what people are doing and saying and volunteer validation. Tip number three, put some extra focus into that justification piece, really show people why it makes sense that they’re feeling the way they are. Tip number four, let’s find ways to validate with just your tone and your body language that enhance what you’re saying to the other person. And tip number five, look at validation as a tool to connect with people, rather than a fix-all.
Got it? Try it.
[00:26:15] So for today’s invitation, I think it’s obvious, I think it’s simple. Take one or more of these five tips and try it out. Try it sometime today. If you’re gonna talk to another human today, you will have an opportunity to practice validation. You will have an opportunity to try one of these things. Then if you want a suggestion, try tip number two, which is validating without being asked. It’s fun, it always feels nice to brighten someone’s day. It always feels nice to see that little spark and that surprise in their eyes when you just compliment them, or thank them, or otherwise acknowledge and appreciate them. I promise you it’ll brighten their day and it will most certainly brighten yours.
[00:26:59] Now, in today’s show notes on my Website michaelssorensen.com I will post links to all the other articles that I’ve written on the topic of validation. You’ll find many deeper dives into some of the things that we’ve talked about today. And of course, I invite you to reach out to me if you have questions. Maybe there’s something as we’ve been going through here that popped into your mind and you thought, well, okay, but what about this? Or maybe you tried validation in a certain situation and it didn’t pan out the way you had hoped. The topics of the show are largely guided by you, the listeners. My aim is to provide actionable, real world advice and insight and solutions or at least direction to problems that we all face. So again, feel free to reach out to me on my Website and I will work in answers to those questions hopefully either in a future blog post or a future podcast episode.
[00:27:50] And with that we wrap up and I wish you the absolute very best this week and look forward to talking again soon.