I think we have all heard it before. A teen says, “My parents don’t get me.” A spouse says, “I wish you would just listen and stop trying to fix things.” It feels like there is a block in communication and nothing ever changes. If you are feeling frustrated and stuck, utilizing validation in your communication with family members can get the ball rolling in a more positive direction.
What is validation and how can you use it?
Focus on listening before responding. Be careful not to jump in and offer solutions if your teen is going on about how she is frustrated. Avoid interrupting your spouse to defend your own views. Communication is more effective when people feel like they have been heard. Slow down and take some time to make sure you really hear the other person.
Listen for feelings. If your teen is complaining about school, he might feel frustrated. If your spouse is ranting about the messy kitchen, he might feel overwhelmed. Go beyond the content of what you hear to listen for these key feelings. What are the feelings that are driving the complaints?
Keep your cool. When feelings get intense, everyone shuts down in order to defend themselves, and that maintains a negative cycle. Do your best to take a deep breath.
Reflect back. Others know they have been heard if you can repeat back, or summarize what they said. Although try to avoid filling in people’s words while they are talking. Remember to hear them out before responding. You can also reflect the feelings you heard. “It sounds like school is really frustrating for you right now.”
What validation is not
Validation is not agreeing. Reflecting back that your teen thinks you are being unfair does not mean you agree with her. You can listen to and acknowledge feelings without having to agree.
Validation is not necessarily a solution to the problem at hand. Being a good listener and acknowledging others’ feelings does not necessarily solve a problem. However, validation goes a long way in achieving trust and respect.
Practicing validation can be a change in the way you and your family communicate. When your child or spouse knows she will be heard, there is emotional safety and she is more likely to hear what you have to say. Validation can foster better feelings in your home and in your relationships.