Validation: Show you’re listening—even if you disagree

Validation is a communication skill that can help both parties in a conversation feel heard and understood. Validation shows that you are truly listening to understand the other person’s feelings and point of view, even if you disagree. Your relationships will benefit when you communicate that you are validating the other person’s viewpoint.

What is validation?

Validation is a response that shows you accept and respect another person’s feelings and point of view, even when you don’t agree with them. It means answering in a way that shows the other person you believe their experience or statement is valid, and you don’t intend to change their view or correct them for being “wrong.” But validation goes beyond simply listening. It’s about showing you really hear someone and understand why they feel the way they do.

Why validation matters

Validation is particularly important during emotionally charged situations. It can be really hard to listen and respond to someone in an understanding way when you’re upset or your experience differs from theirs. An empathetic, nonjudgmental response can reduce how often and how severe conflict is when it surfaces, which can help you improve your relationships. People who use validation in their relationships feel more supported, more satisfied, and less stressed. On the other hand, responses that are dismissive, defensive, or rejecting tend to escalate arguments and lead to misunderstandings, and they can make you or the other person feel unimportant, angry, or ignored.

Communicating validation is easier said than done. But as with any communication skill, you can get better at validating by practicing.

What validation sounds like

You can show people you hear them and accept their feelings, ideas, actions, and goals in many ways. For example, you show up late for a dinner meeting. Even if you believe you’re late for a good reason, you can state the facts of the situation (“I know I arrived 10 minutes late for dinner”) or recognize the other person’s feelings (“I get that you’re frustrated with me for arriving later than you expected”). It’s true: You might need to put aside your defensive feelings temporarily and focus on the other person’s feelings to give a validating response. But when both parties are able to validate each other’s perspective and find common ground, then both sides will feel heard, understood, and more willing to move on.

A great way to start practicing validation is to use some of these verbal techniques:

  • Reflection. Show you’re listening by repeating what you heard the other person say. Use descriptive language, such as “I hear you. You’re upset because it seems I wasn’t mindful of the time” rather than judgmental language.
  • Seek clarification. Ask questions to make sure you’re hearing what the other person intended. For example, “So you feel that my showing up late is disrespectful of your time, right?” This can also help you both get better at expressing your thoughts and emotions clearly.
  • Normalize. Communicate that what the other person is feeling makes sense based on their experience or perspective—and that others in their situation might feel similarly. For example, “I can empathize that you feel neglected because I showed up late. I can see how being left alone for longer than you expected might make you feel abandoned.”

What validation looks like

Another important way to practice validation involves the nonverbal signals you send:

  • Mindful listening. Pay attention to what the other person is saying, avoid distractions (including your own emotions), and don’t judge. An easy first step to show mindful listening is to put away your phone.
  • Be aware of your facial expressions. Are you making eye contact? Avoid rolling your eyes or looking away. Are you frowning or laughing? What’s appropriate for the situation?
  • Think about your physical gestures. Does your body language suggest you’re listening, or are your arms crossed or your hands on your hips? If you’re talking to your spouse or partner, you might want to reach out and hold hands while you speak or offer a hug if they seem upset.
  • Demonstrate validating actions. When you know your partner is stressed, you might bring home their favorite take-out or do extra chores around the house. Or if a coworker is having a hard time, you could offer to go for a walk or get lunch with them.

Bottom line

It takes practice to respond to those around you in a way that shows you understand and accept their feelings and experiences, even if you don’t agree. Try to keep an open mind, and hone your skills by asking for feedback from others. By building your validation skills, you can have positive impacts on almost any relationship.

Explore these other HPRC resources to help improve your communication skills and strengthen relationships:

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