Recent events in my life have lead me to wanting to talk about validation as a social skill.
I think validation is very important. Seriously, so important. It’s something I’m fairly deliberate about in my own interpersonal relationships and work hard on, and I find myself sometimes rather wishing that other people were better about it as well.
But first I want to address a myth that seems to be around about what validation means. So I’m going to try to make this very clear:
VALIDATION DOES NOT MEAN AGREEMENT.
Are we clear? I’ve seen plenty of people trip up over this concept, thinking that the only way to validate someone is to agree with them, but that is just not the case at all. Nor does validation mean admitting that the other person is correct. You can validate someone while strongly of the opinion that they are wrong, and you can even proceed to explain that disagreement after the validation. I mean, you can validate someone by agreeing with them, it is certainly also valid (heh), it is simply not the only way.
I actually want to talk about validation in the context of disagreement here. I’ll be honest – it’s something that I need. If you are going to school me on being wrong about something, I will find it a heck of a lot easier to hear you if you start with some validation. If we’re having a debate, you can say something like “those are interesting and well thought out points, but I disagree with you because of blah, blib, and bloo.” If we are discussing something and I’ve made several points and you only disagree with one of them, you can say “I agree with foo, bar, and baz, but I disagree with qux because blah.” If I misunderstood something you said, you can say “I can see how it could have seemed that way from your perspective and I’m sorry* it came across that way, but I really meant blah.”
Another area validation comes into play is when reassuring someone’s worries. First, I’m going to establish some credentials. I grew up worrying a lot. A whole lot. Enough that my mom called me a “worry-wart” (I’m not really sure what that means exactly, but it was because I was worrying all the time). So I can tell you from experience that saying “oh, that’s a silly thing to be worried about” in response to me sharing a worry with you does not help at all. Not even a tiny little bit. All it does is pile up shame on top of my worry, and we already know how I feel about shame.
So I make a point to never, ever do that to another person. Even if I think their worry is silly or not really worth spending a lot of energy on. Instead, I start with validation. This does not mean that I say “oh yes, that’s a great thing to worry about” or anything like that. In this context, it means that I start by saying that I understand worry, and that I can see why they might be worried about that (because seriously, I generally can. soooo much experience with excessive worrying). Only then will I go on to as thoughtful a reassurance as I can muster, about how things are ok or we have plans in place or whatever else. Heck, I am all about making contingency plans for unlikely events, so I am happy to do that too.
Still, the point is that I start with validation, before doing anything else. I don’t have to lie, or agree with the other person, or declare that they are right and I am wrong. I only have to respectfully acknowledge their point of view.
Now I’m going to get into a metaphor. There is a reason I think this is such a big deal in disagreements. Disagreements create friction between people. A few simple words of validation can act as a lubricant on that friction, decreasing it and ultimately making it easier (so much easier) to deal with and work things out. It makes it easier for people to really hear each other. It makes it easier for people to feel heard. This is important, and again, I speak from personal experience here. Both from my experiences of positive effects – in terms of both giving and receiving validation – and from my experiences of how much harder it can be when validation is absent.
I am also imagining that at least a few people are going to see this as some form of passive aggressive behavior or something, but I really don’t see it that way. As I already mentioned, I see it as social lubricant. I also don’t see any contradiction involved. I can respect a person’s thought process even if I disagree with their conclusion. I can accept that I don’t always word things great, even if I think the other person misinterpreted what I said. And openly acknowledging that makes interactions go so much more smoothly. When I first started figuring this out I was astonished at how nicer it made things. When Nee figured it out in our relationship, it smoothed out our friction by a hell of a lot.
Validation is important. You can validate a person without compromising your opinion or beliefs in any way. It’s a small thing to do that has huge benefits. I think the world could use a lot more of this.
*This is not a real apology. That’s ok, it does not need to be. You are not saying that you are wrong if you say “I’m sorry” in this context, you are simply offering to meet the other person halfway. If you can go as far as being willing to consider that maybe your word choices were unclear or you left out information or something that would be even better, but just a simple “sorry it came across that way” goes a long, long way.