What does it mean to validate? "Recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile." What a brilliant concept! If we could all just jump on board and try this we'd be amazed at the results. Validating costs nothing, but its rewards are immeasurable.
What does it look like? Validating looks something like this: Your friend/partner/child comes to you and tells you about a situation where someone treated them poorly and instead of defending the other person by saying something like "Oh, I am sure they didn't mean it that way or maybe they were just having a bad day, etc..." you would instead validate them by saying something like "I am so sorry that you were treated that way, that must have really hurt your feelings, etc..." Remember, this is your friend/partner/child, someone you care about, why are you defending the other person who will never even know that you did? Your friend/partner/child is just looking for a caring ear.
Another example would be: Your child falls down and skins their knee and instead of saying something like: "Oh, you're fine, stop crying, or shake it off." You would instead say something like: "Oh, honey, that must have really hurt. I am so sorry you got hurt. Let me kiss it, etc..." And then, give them a big hug. You will be amazed at how quickly they stop crying because they feel validated in their pain. I have done this time and time again with my own children, grandchildren, and many others and have been amazed how much it works... every time!
Also, they aren't looking for someone to solve their problems either. So, unless they say that they are looking for an answer to their problem, just listen! By listening, I mean put down your phone, turn off the TV, shut your laptop, and give your full attention and participate using active listening skills such as eye contact, nodding your head, saying uh-ha, replying to questions, etc... Nothing feels like invalidation more than trying to share something really important with someone and then realizing that you are having a one way conversation with a person who you thought really cared about you.
What does it cost you to validate? NOTHING! What are the rewards... immeasurable! People just want to know that you care. It's called empathy. Catch it!
Melinda Eck is the Executive Director of Life Skills of Wisconsin, mother of 5 and grandmother of 6. She has been leading Life Skills Classes for both women and teens since 2009.