I was first introduced to the concept of validation in 2004. If you’d asked me before then if I thought I was a good communicator, I would have told you I was. I have always been fairly articulate and thought I listened well. But more often than not, I wasn’t really listening. I was listening, making notes in my head and waiting for my chance to respond so I could talk.
On one hand, I could claim I came by these traits honestly having spent so much time in my formative years with my maternal grandfather, a Baptist minister. I was used to listening to him preach and I’m sure that formed one of those creases in my brain that categorized this as communicating. I’m joking…I think. 😊
Nevertheless, I had never learned to listen from the perspective of learning to validate another human being; validation means to “give value” to what someone else is experiencing.
I knew how to sympathize with someone and I even knew how to empathize. I just didn’t know how to communicate it and I certainly couldn’t comprehend the importance of it because no one had ever done it for me.
For most of my life, any time I told someone I was feeling anything of a negative nature, they tried to talk me out of feeling that. As a result, if I felt worried, hurt, disappointed or frustrated; people would invariably tell me why I shouldn’t feel that or to “look on the bright side.”
As good as their intentions were, their message actually made me feel worse, because I felt like I shouldn’t be feeling what I was feeling and it made me feel wrong or broken or unacceptable to others. It increased any depression I might have been experiencing.
When my coach first started validating me, I had become so entrenched in making myself wrong for my emotions, I don’t think I even heard him telling me that it was normal for me to feel what I was feeling at first. I had turned off everything so long ago that I was numb to anything other than the very highest of positive emotions and the very lowest of negative emotions. In between, it was all just one big, blurry gray area that I had accepted as “life.”
I didn’t realize that by not feeling my own feelings, by essentially becoming insensitive to myself, I was also insensitive to others. I had repressed so much anger, sadness, frustration, hurt, embarrassment and shame that it made me anxious and emotionally reactive. As my coach taught me, it was the difference between someone mistakenly stepping on my toe and someone stepping on a broken and infected toe. My reaction was wildly different!
It was imperative for me to learn to come to terms with my own emotions and in peeling away those layers, I found compassion for others in ways I had never experienced before. As I wrote about last week, Forgiveness played a significant role in this, because it enabled me to let go of big chunks of energy at a time.
Meditation also played a major role as it helped me to find ever-deepening levels of peace within myself. When I reached a certain point and someone was telling me about their experience, instead of using my grandfather’s “preach” method to tell them how to view their situation differently; I listened and asked questions to probe more deeply into what they were experiencing. In doing so, people would tell me enough about their experiences for me to feel compassion for them.
When I reached this state, I could genuinely and honestly say something like, “It sounds like you felt hurt. I think that’s normal. I think anyone who experienced that would feel the same.”
It seems simple, doesn’t it?
But I learned the simplicity of giving value to what someone is feeling helped them accept what happened and deal with it. It created a bridge between us that would never have happened otherwise.
I’ll give you a real-world example that I wrote about more extensively in a post I wrote earlier this year on “Hard Lessons of Leadership.”
I had a customer who was so upset not only with the project performance but the way the team had been communicating. One of the first things I did was reach out with a mea culpa and validate what I believed the product manager felt based on what he’d told me months earlier and what I was hearing with them yelling on the phone.
I validated his frustration and why I thought it was completely normal for him to have felt that. I validated the betrayal he likely felt for having gone to bat for us and then for us to perform so poorly. And then I did something he likely didn’t expect at all. I asked for his help to fix it and detailed exactly what we were going to do and what help I needed from him.
This gentleman had been yelling at us for a few months and I honestly didn’t know how he would react to my message, but I wrote it from the most authentic place I could find in my being and essentially laid all my cards on the table.
He wrote back the next day with a completely different approach than I’d heard from him, graciously accepting my apology and thanking me for the communication. He also committed to collaborating with us and told me he was looking forward to us getting things back on track.
I had used validation many times in my professional life both with my peers, team members and even managers. But I had never done it at such an important point with a customer. It was a point of vulnerability that everything I’d ever learned about professional relationships said it was a mistake.
The result showed me that everyone is human…even my customers…and it set the stage for me to be able to effectively collaborate with my customer, to become completely transparent and for them to trust me and support me even when things didn’t go as well as either of us would have liked…because they trusted me.
I am still working on the application of validation, especially as a parent of a teenager. She and I both are working to apply this technique more effectively to diffuse conflicts that arise.
I encourage you to learn this valuable tool and will leave you with a poem titled “Listen to Me” that helped me understand the importance of this even more.
“When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice, you HAVE NOT done what I have asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why
I shouldn’t feel the way I’m feeling, you are trampling on my feelings.
“When I ask you to listen to me please don’t feel that you have to do something to save me or solve my problems. When you try to MAKE me FEEL better you have failed me,
as strange as this may seem to you. I’m asking you to listen to ME,
not talk or do something, but just listen to me!
“When you do something for me that I need to do for myself, you contribute to my feelings of inadequacy. When you accept as a simple fact that I’m feeling what I’m feeling, no matter how irrational I sound, I can quit trying to convince you and I can go back to understanding why I’m feeling what I’m feeling! Please listen to me and just duplicate what I said so that I know that you are listening to me!”
Open your healing journal and describe 3 ways you think learning the art of validation can help you. The best way to start is by validating yourself. Tell yourself why it’s normal to feel whatever you’re feeling. This will give you the space to breathe into that feeling and help dislodge that stuck energy to start letting it go.
How did your caretakers, teachers and leaders speak to you? Did anyone validate your feelings?
Remember that people can only give you what they know so forgive them for what they didn’t know and use Forgiveness as a means to let go of the emotional energies you’ve repressed.
Validation is a tool you can use daily to release energies that may get triggered which may remind you of other times you felt that way. Once you release most of that, you can use validation to help prevent the buildup of new energies as it helps you to process what you’re experiencing in real-time.
And as I have shown, it’s a gift you can give to others.