The Incredible Power of Validation and How To Do It

What Does Validation Look Like?

Tim and Barbie sat slumped in their chairs feeling exhausted and hopeless. A full hour of talking had failed to make progress toward resolving their conflict. In fact, they were now much farther apart than they were when they started.

I see it all the time and everywhere. In families, marriages, friendships, politics, and the workplace. People going head-to-head and toe-to-toe, often with the best intentions to reach a resolution, only to find that their attempts to discuss it makes things worse.

If all these people knew that there is a simple, almost magical thing they can do to reach through the conflict, connect with the other person, and forge forward, I’m sure that they would do it right away.

As she slumped in her chair, Barbie realized that she was perseverating on her own point of view. She became aware of how angry she was at Tim for not listening and not seeming to care how she felt. Then suddenly, a lightbulb went on in her head, and she said,”Tim, please tell me again why you refuse to spend the holiday weekend with my family.”

Validation is not about compromising your own point of view. It’s not about giving in. It’s not about manipulation, or agreeing, or even resolving. Validation is something that can happen in one sentence, in one moment. It’s a blip that occurs in a conversation that can make all the difference in where that conversation goes.

“As I already explained multiple times, I cannot stand being around your brother that long,” Tim explained. “He is the most boorish, obnoxious, unpleasant person I have ever met. He will ruin the holidays for me, and I don’t want our children around him,” Tim repeated with exasperation.

Keep reading, because validation has not happened yet. Barbie is, however, listening intently to Tim’s words, looking directly into his eyes as he talks. This is something she did not do for the entire hour of their previous conversation.

“I get it,” Barbie said. “I totally understand why you feel that way.”

This was the moment of validation. If you were watching this conversation happen between Barbie and Tim, you would see Tim’s angry posture slightly relax as he took in Barbie’s words. In that moment, he feels unexpectedly heard and understood. He feels validated.

To validate someone is not at all the same as agreeing with them. It’s only a way to say that you understand their feelings. That one moment of understanding has the power to change the course of your interaction, sending you on the road to a resolution.

3 Steps to Validate Someone

  1. Change to a listening posture. Listen to what the person is saying, and try to grasp the feelings behind it. When Barbie did this, she realized that Tim finds her brother far more offensive than she does. She puts a realization together in her head: Tim didn’t grow up with her brother, and doesn’t understand him as she does. Tim takes her brother’s behavior at face value and is greatly offended by it.

  2. Try your hardest to feel what the other person is feeling, especially if you don’t agree with it. When Barbie actually listens and imagines being Tim, she is able to feel his frustration and irritation. As she feels Tim’s feelings for just that moment, he experiences a moment of validation. In that moment, he finally feels heard and understood.
  3. Tell the other person you understand why they would feel that way. You don’t need to say, “I feel the same way,” “I agree,” or “You are right.” You only need to say that you get it.

When you give someone a moment of validation, you are accomplishing several goals simultaneously. You are establishing a meeting-of-the-minds, you are connecting, and you are helping the other person open up to your point of view as well.

People who feel validated are far more open to the opinions of others. Now that Barbie has validated Tim’s feelings, he will be far more able to hear what she has to say, and imagine what she is feeling.

If you grew up with a lack of validation yourself (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN), you will likely have a hard time validating others, especially during times of conflict or anger. Yet validation has the power to turn a negative cycle into a positive one.

Growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can leave you devoid of many emotion skills like validation. To learn more, Take The Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn many more ways to improve your relationships with the people you care about, see my new book,  Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.


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Sue F - December 24, 2017 Reply

This is such an important lesson to learn. So often all we do is just yell at each other to get our point across instead of really listening and absorbing what the other person is saying. It does take practice but is so worth the effort.

Karen - December 17, 2017 Reply

Thanks Dr Webb
Your blogs are very informative. Is this information available in your books?

    Jonice Webb PhD - December 17, 2017 Reply

    Thank you Karen! My books delve more deeply into the causes and effects of emotional neglect and exactly how to heal it. My second book is about how CEN affects your relationships, and how recognizing its effects and addressing them can deepen and strengthen your connections to others. Thanks for your question.

    Nicole H. - December 19, 2017 Reply

    Thank you Dr. Webb. Over the last couple months I have used your articles during my therapy sessions and it has done be a great deal of good to realize that I suffered from CEN. It has allowed me to validate myself! If I am able to understand where I’ve come from and why, then I can move to forgive myself. In doing so, I can break the cycle! For seven months I was involved in an abusive relationship, mentally and emotionally, which has been identified through my therapist, and some of your articles have also helped explained why I have repeated these patterns in my life so I can stop them! As for this article, the abuser mentioned above accused me of not listening and hung up on me when I tried to validate his feelings. I tried to interject during a major argument something like, I get it, this is how I felt then, so I can understand and he accused me of not listening and hung up on me several times. Now I know that was just part of his SEVERAL occurrences of gas lighting and manipulation. I explained to him later, but to no eval (and that’s fine I was better off with him out of my life) that I didn’t want to listen in silence that I wanted him to know I was trying to not only listen to him, but understand him and relate it in a way so he knew that was what I was trying to do.

      Jonice Webb PhD - December 19, 2017 Reply

      Dear Nicole, I applaud you for learning how to validate yourself and others. That’s a great accomplishment! Now you can find someone who deserves your validation. Keep up the great work you’re doing, and thank you for sharing your experience with us!

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