Validation: The Most Powerful Relationship Skill You Were Never Taught
Hello there, and welcome to Lesson 2.
Today, we’re discussing a powerful (yet surprisingly little-known) relationship skill: validation. This powerful tool has had such a significant impact on my relationships (romantic, professional, and otherwise) that I wrote an entire book about it to try to share the wealth with others.
It’s Not about the Nail
Have you seen the YouTube video, “It’s Not About the Nail”? Hilarious. A man and a woman sit together on a couch while the woman complains about a constant pain in her head. The camera eventually cuts to reveal a giant nail sticking out of her forehead, but when the guy suggests that maybe that’s the reason for the pain, she gets frustrated and says, “It’s not about the nail! Stop always trying to fix things and just listen!”
What makes this video so funny is the fact that, while ridiculous, we have conversations like that with others all the time.
That’s because we as humans have a deep-seated need for connection—regardless of our age, gender, or background. (Yes, men need it just as much as women.) We need to feel heard, understood, and appreciated, even when we already know how to fix a problem we’re facing. That feeling comes—in large part—from validation.
Validation is, in essence, the act of helping someone feel heard and understood. It has the power to calm fears and concerns, add a boost to joy and excitement, avoid or quickly resolve arguments, make people much more open to your advice, and much more.
In other words: It’s awesome.
How to Validate
Effective validation has two main components:
1. It identifies a specific emotion.
2. It offers justification for feeling that emotion.
For example, let’s say you’re talking with your significant other at the end of a long day. You can tell something is bothering them, so you ask what’s up. “Ugh, I can’t stand Kate!” they say. “You know this work event we’ve been planning? She keeps changing the plans and doesn’t seem to listen to—or care at all about—what the rest of us want to do. It’s driving me crazy!”
What would you say? While it may be tempting to jump in with advice or assurance, research has shown that choosing to validate is often the best way to help. So, you might say something like:
“Seriously? Ugh, that would drive me crazy!”
Notice how that response 1) identifies a specific emotion (feeling crazy) and 2) offers justification for feeling that emotion (you would feel the same way). By holding off on the advice for a moment and instead showing that you hear and understand where your significant other is coming from, you demonstrate respect and appreciation in a way that will instantly strengthen your connection.
Sound easy? It is. But does it really make that big of a difference? You’d be surprised.
Validating and Invalidating Responses
There are, of course, countless ways to validate. As long as you show the other person that you recognize and accept their emotions, you’re validating:
• “Wow, that would be confusing.”
• “He really said that? I’d be angry too!”
• “Ah, that is so sad.”
• “You have every right to be proud; that was a major accomplishment!”
• “I’m so happy for you! You’ve worked incredibly hard on this. It must feel amazing.”
Invalidating responses are often born out of good intentions, but they do anything but help. An invalidating response is anything that minimizes or dismisses another person’s feelings:
• “You’ll be fine.”
• “It could be worse!”
• “At least it’s not [fill in the blank].”
• “Just put a smile on your face and tough it out.”
• “Don’t worry; things will work out.”
• “It’s not that big of a deal.”
Got it? Try it.
The next time someone shares something with you (an experience, fear, concern, hope, dream, etc.), try validating them. Get into the experience with them, identify the emotion they’re feeling, and show that you understand why they’re feeling it. You’ll be surprised at just how powerful this approach can be.
That does it for today, but I look forward to seeing you tomorrow as we discuss fascinating research related to presence, the lost art of giving your full attention.
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