Communication Skills: Validation

We’re going to go back to basics this month, and I’m going to cover a couple aspects of communication. These will be sweet and to the point, and hopefully a good reminder of basic skills that can support relationships.

I believe that validation is one of the most important skills to support any type of relationship. So often, we just need to be sure that another person understands where we are coming from.

Validation looks like…

1.     Listening

It is going to be pretty difficult to validate another person’s experience if you can’t actually listen to them sharing their experience.

How many times do you find that you are physically present, but mentally absent, in a conversation? It can be really easy to become sidetracked as you are listening to someone else- maybe you begin to think of a response, maybe something that they say reminds you of a task you need to complete. It doesn’t take long to be hanging on to the others’ words by only a thread.

When you notice this happening, redirect yourself to the present moment. Remind yourself of your participation and role in this current conversation. You need to be actively listening- taking in their words and unspoken communication. It is also helpful to convey through your nonverbal communication that you are listening- checking your phone, looking another direction, or appearing bored communicates to the other person that this is not a priority.

2.     Empathy

Empathy requires that you step away from your own experience and understanding of the world, and attempt to put yourself in the position of another. You are not asking “how would I feel in this situation?”; this is more reflective of sympathy. Instead, you attempt o step into the other person’s experience to understand and empathize with their thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. Validation is going to be more genuine when you have taken the time to experience empathy with a person.

3.     Feeling Seen

A great way to ensure that you are on the right track (i.e., you have listened, you have validated the other’s experience, and you can empathize), is that the other person feels truly seen. The other person might express “Yes!” or “That’s exactly it…”, or some other type of confirmation that you’ve gotten it right. If their response seems a bit uncertain, there might need to be some more clarification or information shared- that’s ok! None of us are mind readers, and, like all other skills, this is a practice.    

Validation does not look like…

1.     Agreement or Approval

This can be a really difficult distinction to make. This is really where the empathy comes in. You do not need to agree with or approve of a decision in order to validate it. It is not “Oh I see you made that choice. In validating your experience leading up to that choice, I am communicating to you that I would have made the same choice or approve of you making that choice.” It is “Wow, I can understand how, given the experiences, beliefs and emotions that you experienced leading up to this decision, this is the choice you made. That isn’t a decision that I can support, but I understand why, in that moment, you chose it.”

To learn more or to book an appointment, contact me via telephone or email.

Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Valencia, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.