Today, you’ll discover how to validate someone’s feelings without agreeing with them and listen without giving advice.
“In modern life, we are encouraged to listen to our hearts, listen to our inner voices, and listen to our guts, but rarely are we encouraged to listen carefully and with intent to other people.” – Kate Murphy
Validation is the act of helping someone feel heard and understood.
It has the power to boost the other person’s positive emotions and reduce the painful ones. (*)
It also makes the other person much more open to your advice. (*)
How To Validate Someone’s Feelings Without Agreeing?
Forms of Validation
Validation comes in three forms; emotional, behavioral, and cognitive.
1. Emotional validation
Emotional validation involves validating without escalating the emotion. The way to do that is by focusing on the primary emotions the other person is experiencing.
Emotions, such as anger and anxiety, are secondary emotions because they’re easier to recognize. Primary emotions, such as sadness or hurt, are more difficult to recognize.
So when validating, try to identify those underlying emotions. This will help de-escalate their emotional response.
Validating anger is helpful, but validating the underlying hurt can shift the other person’s emotions and allow them to pay attention to the nuances of all of the different emotions that they’re experiencing.
The emotional validation you give by listening and identifying emotions, also allows the other person to express themselves more openly. That can be validating in and of itself. (*)
How to identify emotions?
Imagine being in a similar circumstance.
Ask yourself, “Have I been in a situation similar to this in some way?” If it’s not, “can I imagine being in that same position?”
Based on what you know about the person, ask yourself, “How do they likely think and feel?”
We can usually put ourselves in the other person’s position and imagine what thoughts are going through their head or what feelings they have. Then we can articulate those and check that we’re understanding things correctly.
We can directly say things like “that makes sense,” or, “I can see that.” And that would be an example of emotional validation.
Self-disclosure isn’t about telling the other person a story about how things have happened to you.
While there is nothing wrong with that per se, when it comes to emotional validation, self-disclosure involves things like laughing when a person tells a funny story or crying when a person tells an emotionally heart-wrenching story.
Emotional expressions are actually self-disclosures and that’s another example of emotional validation.
2. Behavioral Validation
Behavioral validation involves validating the other person’s behaviors by communicating that they’re understandable regardless of whether these behaviors are helpful or not.
For example, “It makes sense that you would cut yourself after what happened, the emotional pain was so unbearable, you really a relief, and it’s worked before.”
Simply repeating back what the facts of the situation are, such as saying, “So you used an emergency razor that you kept in the glove box,” without trying to make something of it, is also a form of behavioral validation.
3. Cognitive Validation
Cognitive validation is when you recognize and identify the underlying assumptions and beliefs of the other person and then articulate them and find the validity.
In a way this involves mind-reading. Based on what you know about the other person, or even based on what you know about human beings in general, look at any patterns they might have.
For example, if you know that the other person struggles with feelings of shame, you might verify with him by asking, “Did you feel like you didn’t deserve being with that person?”
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What Validating Is Not?
1. Validating Doesn’t Mean Reinforcing
There is a fine line between reinforcing and validating.
The purpose of validation isn’t maintaining an unhealthy behavior or escalating a negative emotion.
Validation is about communicating understanding and helping the person feel more accepting and open to change.
The best way to know whether you’re validating or reinforcing is by observing how validation is being received and what’s happening with their behavior. Is it increasing, decreasing, staying the same over time?
2. Validating Doesn’t Mean Agreeing
Most people’s reactions make perfect sense, once you put yourself in their place and understand where the other person is coming from (their past experiences, their fears, the fact that they might have all the details, etc.)
Still, you might find yourself thinking that they’re being irrational.
If you find it hard to validate someone, try asking for further information-seeking questions to help you understand their reaction better.
“What about that do you think is unfair?”
“Did she tell you that, or was it something you came to understand from her behavior?”
If they’re, for instance, misreading the situation, that can help you understand their reaction and validate their feelings, given their perspective and experience.
Can You Share Your Opinion or Give Advice?
Validation sets you up for a more effective conversation.
But before you can share your opinion or give advice, the other person needs to feel heard and understood before they can be receptive to any input.
ProTip: Asking permission to share your opinion or give advice can show tremendous respect for the other person and make them much more receptive.
How to Listen Without Giving Advice?
There are different ways you can communicate validation. As long as you show the other person that you recognize and understand their emotions, you’re validating:
“No wonder you’re feeling confused.”
“I’d be angry too!”
“That is so sad.”
“You have every right to feel sad; that was a major disappointment!”
An invalidating response is anything that minimizes or dismisses the other person’s feelings.
Invalidation disrupts relationships and creates emotional distance.
The following are some examples of invalidating responses to avoid:
“It could be worse!”
“You’ll be fine.”
“At least it’s not…”
“You shouldn’t think that way.”
“Just try to see the good side and tough it out.”
“Don’t worry; things will work out.”
“Here we go again, cry over nothing.”
More often than not, these responses leave the person feeling worse. They’re suggesting that the person is being irrational or “too sensitive.”
Invalidation also includes nonverbal invalidation, such as rolling of the eyes, drumming of fingers in an impatient way, constantly checking your watch or your phone, etc.
This will probably prevent the other person from opening up or being receptive to any advice.
Got it? Try it.
Next time you offer to listen to someone, or someone shares something with you, try validating them.
Imagine yourself in their place, identify the emotion they’re feeling, and show that you understand how they can feel that way.
It can be surprisingly bonding.
“In social situations, we pass around a phone to look at pictures instead of describing what we’ve seen or experienced. Rather than finding shared humor in conversation, we show one another internet memes and YouTube videos. And if there is a difference of opinion, Google is the arbiter. If someone tells a story that takes longer than thirty seconds, heads bow, not in contemplation but to read texts, check sports scores, or see what’s trending online. The ability to listen to anyone has been replaced by the capacity to shut out everyone, particularly those who disagree with us or don’t get to the point fast enough.”– Kate Murphy
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