Validate to De-Escalate
So often- literally every (work) day, I have at least one client who comes in incredibly frustrated because their significant other, their child, their parent, their boss, their co-worker, their employee, etc. (you name it) was unable to and uninterested in seeing their point of view and instead just pushed their own. The biggest frustration is usually feeling unheard and disregarded. Inevitably, when you state your opinion/p.o.v. to someone who does not acknowledge yours but responds with their own, how can you be anything other than defensive? It’s incredibly frustrating (especially when you feel passionate about something) to feel like it’s just been completely disregarded. Being defensive seems like the most natural response. Unless, of course, you already have and utilize the skills that promote connection and put an end to defensiveness. I am referring to basic communication skills that most of us are not taught and without them (or without applying them), we find ourselves stuck in a power struggle because we all want to be heard, feel like our opinion matters and makes sense. This is where validation comes in – the second most important part of communicating (the first is mirroring, so it’s clear to both people (or everyone involved) that you know what is being communicated). Mirroring (repeating back exactly what the person speaking to you just communicated to you) stops interpretation, which also causes an array of issues.
So, what exactly does it meant to validate? Well, it’s NOT about agreeing with someone just for the sake of agreeing or to get the other person to stop talking. It’s not about changing your opinion and abandoning your beliefs, thoughts and feelings & that is where, I find, most people get stuck… Some of the most common fears/misunderstandings about validating are; If I validate his/her position then mine doesn’t matter anymore, I’ve just changed my position without realizing it and I’ll never be able to go back, my position will never be taken seriously, etc. Let me clear this up because validation is not intended to ever cause a feeling of loss for anyone – you are not changing your mind or abandoning your own beliefs or position when you validate someone with a different p.o.v. – validation is intended to create a deeper understanding and a deeper connection, which is often healing. When you validate someone’s feelings and/or experience(s), you are connecting at a deeper level and demonstrating that you are able to see beyond yourself. You’ll find that you begin to understand and integrate where the other is coming from. It will strengthen the relationship because you are not only understanding them better but you are communicating that they matter to you and are worth your time and energy and most people just want to know and feel like they matter, even when or despite their different opinion.
Validation involves; slowing town, listening curiously and intentionally (so you can mirror what was said to you) in order to be able to make sense of what the person just said to you. When you get it and their p.o.v makes sense to you, let them know and you’ve just validated their experience. It looks like this: So based on what you just said, it makes sense that you would feel x (what they told you they felt) based on y (their experience, your behavior, etc.). It’s pretty simple: It makes sense to me that you would feel scared when I yell especially since there was a lot of yelling in your house when you were growing up. – Be very careful NOT to get defensive here especially if it’s about your behavior- this is not about your experience right now – this is about the experience of the person talking. In other words, it does not matter if you don’t think that you yelled b/c it is about the other person’s experience – this is where many people get tripped up. You must put your own experience aside in order to validate. If the other person experienced the volume of your voice as yelling, you need to hear that and respect that in order to validate. Chances are, if you did something trigger them (like raise your voice or yell), it’s historical, which means it’s more about the history than about you – you’re triggering something.
After you attempt to validate, I’ve found that it ALWAYS helps to ask the person if they feel like you’re understanding them (“Do you feel like I’m understanding you?”). You want to ask with an open mind because you might not be understanding them, so leave room for correction. It’s not validation until the other feels understood by you. Keep in mind, this is a skill and a tool – it needs to be practiced and utilized consistently for connection, growth and healing to happen. Once you start doing it you’ll find that your relationships are getting stronger, you’re feeling better and dealing with less arguments and power struggles. I’m sure you’ll also find that your opinions are also being heard and understood more than they were. You’ll likely feel more visible yourself.
As we all know, we get more of what we give. Take the first step and validate someone important to you today.