Author: Michael S. Sorensen
I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships Michael S. Sorensen 2017
What is validation (I Hear You)
I Hear You: To be heard is the most important desire of each of us. It is laid down at the deepest, biological level: it is the social IQ that distinguishes people from other creatures, it is the ability to communicate that has shaped the human mind. The desire to understand how other people feel is a key human skill as a species. We tell each other news, share plans, and complain not because we like to chat so much. We hope that the interlocutor will share our feelings and these feelings will bring us closer. When this does not happen, an abyss opens between us.
Psychologist John Gottman only needs to observe a married couple for several hours to reach a 94% accuracy verdict on whether the marriage will last. A key indicator is partner responses to minor requests. The spouses send these requests to each other throughout the day, often without realizing it themselves: “Look at this car!”, “Well, the weather is today!”, “It seems that our cat has made a mess again.” These remarks are needed not so much in order to talk about the car, the weather or the cat, but in order to feel the emotional response of the partner more often. Gottman found that partners who soon broke up responded to such remarks only 33% of the time. The partners who saved the marriage responded to requests in 87% of cases.Maintaining a common emotional field turned out to be a much more important condition for a strong marriage,I Hear You
Listening to the interlocutor is half the battle. It is much more important to try to understand, and then acknowledge what you hear. This is the secret to productive communication, and it’s called validation. Her formula is simple: “I hear you, I understand your feelings and I believe that there is nothing wrong with these feelings .”
Accepting and non-acknowledging responses
You can react to the words of the interlocutor in two ways.
Let’s say your friend is worried about an upcoming exam. Compare the two answers:
“Come on, you’ll do great, I’m sure of it.”
“I understand you, the final exam is difficult!”I Hear You
Will both answers get the right answer? Not at all. The first answer is nothing more than ignoring the feelings of the interlocutor: you simply brush off his experiences. This answer is non-recognizing. On the contrary, in the second answer, you acknowledge the feelings of the interlocutor (“I understand you”) and justify them (“The final exam is difficult!”). You are on his side. This is an acknowledging answer.
In everyday communication, non-acknowledging and acknowledging responses are mixed, but it is useful to distinguish between them:
Another problem with non-acknowledging responses is that they seem to instruct people to experience or not experience certain emotions, dividing them into “bad” and “good.” As a result, your interlocutor is even more nervous, because he got into a difficult situation, and even experiences a “bad” emotion: he is annoyed, although he doesn’t seem to be due to his status, age …
But when it comes to emotional life, there are no good and bad feelings, only our interpretations. And even more so, the orders expressed in a comic form to pull yourself together with do not work here.
Accepting answers give the green light to all emotions. They allow a person to feel what he feels. This determines the tactics of a conversation on a difficult topic: it is important for someone who dares to share his sore with you that you simply acknowledge his feelings – in most cases, this is much more important than specific advice. An acknowledging answer turns out to be very helpful here.
Validation is based on empathy – the ability to understand and share the emotions of the interlocutor. Do not confuse it with sympathy – a simple disposition towards another, which is limited to external evaluation. When a sick visiting relative, you can say to him: “I’m sorry that you feel so bad” – this is just a sign of sympathy, politeness, and nothing more. But say: “Yes, getting chickenpox at 35 is terrible!”, And you will find yourself in the same emotional field with the interlocutor, share his feelings.
Some people find it difficult to show empathy. Fortunately, this skill can be developed with simple tricks.
- Be more curious about other people. What really happened in this person’s life? What influenced his reaction to this conversation so much? What if this happened to you?
- Look at the interlocutor. It sounds too simple, but in fact, for most of the conversation, we are focused on ourselves, captured by our own experiences, and very inattentive to the reactions of the interlocutor. Look at him, pay attention to the pose, look. What might he be experiencing right now? What is he thinking about?
- Imagine that your interlocutor is a small child. It is not so difficult, deep down everyone remains a little child, and childhood impressions often determine adult actions. By imagining the interlocutor as a four-year-old kid, it is much easier to feel his vulnerability and reduce the degree of aggression in a difficult conversation.
- Pay more attention to your own emotions. Recognizing other people’s emotions is not easy if you are not aware of your own. Listen to yourself right now: how are you feeling? Anyone will answer this question: “Normal” – but this is not an emotion. “Okay, I feel pretty good.” The answer didn’t get any better. “I am happy”, “I feel irritated”, and “I am anxious” are much more specific characteristics, they directly express the emotions experienced. This is something that others will easily understand.
Make it a habit to catch yourself in the mood several times a day and refine it. Soon you will realize how much words hide: the assessment of “good” can mean happiness, and gratitude, and confidence, a simple “OK” – and indifference, and fatigue, and pleasure. By becoming more attentive to yourself, you will learn to instantly recognize the unconvincing reactions of others.I Hear You
- Don’t judge your emotions. Don’t avoid them, don’t ignore them, catch yourself in non-acknowledging answers to yourself. How often do you tell yourself not to worry? Are you trying to convince yourself that “everything is fine”? Do you feel like it doesn’t work? This is because at this moment you are judging rather than accepting emotions and the internal problem is not solved. A much more useful tactic is to observe emotions with the detachment of a scientist: “Oh, how angry I am!”, “I just envy him.” Recognize that such emotions are quite justified: “… and who would not envy a win of a million rubles!” The more often you acknowledge and justify your emotions, the easier it will be for others to do so.
Myths about validation
Myth 1: Validation is only for negative experiences. Indifference to the positive emotions of loved ones destroys relationships even faster than open negativity (this is especially important in relationships with children, for whom timely praise is so important). Always look for opportunities to praise, support successful undertakings with a kind word, and your relationships with others will improve magically.
Myth 2. If I disagree with the interlocutor, validation is useless. Understanding the feelings of the interlocutor does not mean sharing his point of view.
If a colleague complains that the boss did not raise him once again, and you have a low opinion of the abilities of a colleague, you can at least understand his annoyance, take into account his fears, fears, and hopes. None of us has full information about the events that occur, so the reaction of others may be much more justified than it seems at first glance. Say something like, “I understand why you are upset. You’ve been working here for over ten years. It’s not pleasant when someone passes you at the turn.I Hear You
Yes, and you can convince the interlocutor to listen to your words only by going towards him. This tactic is especially valuable in difficult negotiations and in settling disputes.
Myth 3. Just repeat the words of the interlocutor. Many mindful listening practitioners recommend this technique: if you repeat the words of the interlocutor, paraphrasing them a little, you will win over yourself.
If your friend is angry because a colleague let him down, according to the rules of reflective listening, you answer him: “You are angry because a slow colleague let you down so badly.” You pay attention to the worries of a friend, but at the same time you concentrate only on words. But an upset interlocutor, as a rule, has no doubt that he has been heard. He needs to be understood! From a validation point of view, the answer will be different: “Well, well! Yes, I myself am already bursting with anger! Now you are not an observer, but a participant in this emotional experience.I Hear You
In a word, validation requires more subtle language techniques, and the four-step method talks about them.
Four steps to trust
This method is universal: it is applicable both in a conversation with a colleague and in communication with children, it is suitable for easy conversations and for resolving a tense conflict at work. The sequence of actions will not take more than a minute and can be quickly brought to automatism.
Step 1: Listen Empathically
The purpose of such listening is to go beyond words to the emotions they represent in any dialogue. The above tips for developing empathy will help: show curiosity about the situation, and be attentive to the interlocutor. Add to them the basic principles of empathic communication.
- During the dialogue, check if you understand everything correctly: “It happened last Saturday, right?”, “You look worried”, and “Did he really say that ?!”. Use phrases that do not interfere with the conversation, but add the necessary emotional touches (“Yeah, it must have been difficult”, “It’s so great!”). Help the interlocutor to open up (“What happened?”, “I think you want to discuss it”).
- Your interest in the conversation should be obvious: if someone wants to talk to you in the middle of a workday and you respond, close the lid of your laptop even if the screen is blank, remove your headphones, even if there is no music playing in them. This will not only help you focus on the conversation but will also convince the interlocutor that you are attentive to him.
Studies show that the quality of a conversation in which one of the participants picked up the phone or even just left it on the table significantly deteriorated compared to conversations in which the participants did not touch their phones at all.I Hear You
- Be on the same wavelength with the interlocutor: share his joy, show respect for his sadness and excitement. A passive reaction to sincere feelings hurts no less than deliberate criticism.
- Do not rush to intervene in the situation. Do not give advice unless you are asked for it (this option will appear in the third step of validation). As a rule, a person wants to speak out not because he is waiting for a specific recommendation, but because he needs a sympathetic interlocutor.
- Don’t make the situation more negative (“At least it could have been worse”), but don’t sugarcoat the circumstances either. Don’t say, “You did great!” to someone who has made a serious mistake and knows it himself. The more adequately you react to the situation, the more valuable your support and compliments are.
Step 2: Acknowledge the other person’s feelings
Remember there are two sides to validation:
1) you acknowledge the emotion;
2) justify it.
They enhance each other’s effect.
A friend shares his enthusiasm about the achievement in the service? Rejoice with him, emphasizing the justification of the feelings experienced: “Seriously, I’m so happy for you! So much effort you spent on this report … I can imagine how glad you are that everything went well.I Hear You
Remember that you still do not have to correct the situation, or even share the opinion of the interlocutor. But you can always clarify his emotions (“And what do you feel after all this?”, “You must be so happy … Or excited, huh?”).
Is the situation described by the interlocutor familiar to you? It’s good to let him know. But avoid phrases like “I perfectly understand how you feel”, this will not be true, we all feel differently. It is better to notice: “I know this feeling …” If the situation is unfamiliar to you, admit this too – thereby showing sincerity and respect for other people’s circumstances.
Step 3: Offer support, but be careful
How to understand whether the interlocutor is ready to receive feedback, and not just wants to cry in a vest?
- Directly ask how you can help.
- Ask if you can share your opinion about the situation described.
You don’t have to ask permission in two cases:
- we are talking about raising children, especially small ones (it’s stupid to ask a four-year-old son for permission to express an opinion about the danger of touching a hot stove; however, the older the children, the more tactfully you need to be with advice);
- This is a complaint that concerns you personally. If the interlocutor is angry with you and accuses you of something, it makes sense to clarify your intentions, especially if you are not asked about it. But even in such difficult cases, you can practice the first two steps of validation by listening to the emotions of the interlocutor and trying to evaluate them comprehensively.
Feedback shouldn’t hurt:
- start the advice with an acknowledging remark (“I know this feeling well … This is how I see it …”);
- use “I”, not “you” (there is a big emotional difference between the phrases “You’re wrong” and, “I think it’s your fault”)
- be careful with the union “but”: as a rule, it devalues the entire first part of what was said. In the phrase “I understand how upset you are, but I suspect that Lena did not want to offend you,” the interlocutor will miss your confession and only remember that you are on the side of the offender. Change “but” to “and”;
- Avoid the categorical words “always”, “always”, and “never”. First of all, they hardly reflect the real picture. But even if the husband NEVER does the dishes, and the wife ALWAYS lingers in boutiques, the opinion can be softened with the word “I”: “I think you always do this” – now you are not blaming, but expressing an opinion, and it is, by definition, subjective. You can refine the assessment: “You rarely do this.”
Step 4: Re-acknowledge the other person’s feelings
There is not much validation. No matter what emotions a person shares with you, he decided on something important – to open up to you, and the final acknowledging comment will convince him of the correctness of this decision. End the conversation with a phrase like, “Yeah, this is not to be envied. The problem is not simple. But I see you have a plan. Good luck!” or “Be that as it may, you behaved with dignity. Not everyone can do that!” It is appropriate to assess the manifestation of vulnerability: “It must have been difficult for you to talk about it. I appreciate your openness.” The interlocutor will understand: now he can trust you without the risk of running into neglect or indifference.
One last piece of advice for you
But what if you yourself need validation? Ask for it directly! Of course, it is better to choose as an interlocutor someone who is familiar with this practice of communication and is prone to empathy. However, you yourself can push the interlocutor in the right direction: “I’m a little upset … Can I share what happened with you? I don’t need advice, I just want to talk about it.”
In addition, these skills for developing empathy will eventually teach you to use less external validation and rely more on internal validation – to recognize your emotions and rebuke the internal critic, who is sometimes crueler than those around you. Self-compassion is what starts a healthy, strong relationship with anyone.
Top 10 Thoughts
1. “I hear the interlocutor, I understand his feelings and I believe that there is nothing wrong with these feelings.” Let this phrase be the setting for any communication, including with yourself.
2. There are no good and bad feelings – there are only our interpretations.
3. Sympathy is more valuable than advice.
4. Be more curious about other people. What actually happened in the life of the interlocutor? What if this happened to you?
5. Do not be stingy with sincere praise: its absence hurts more than criticism.
6. Compassionate to the interlocutor, you are not obliged to share his point of view.
7. Make it a habit to catch yourself in the mood several times a day and refine it. By becoming more attentive to yourself, you will learn to quickly recognize the reactions of others.
8. Do not distort the situation being discussed and do not pretend to have experienced “something similar” if it is not so. The more adequately you respond to what was said, the more valuable your support is.
9. Be kind to yourself: Self-compassion is the only foundation for a strong relationship with anyone.
10. Validation never happens too much. Encourage the interlocutor with a kind acknowledging remark at the end of a difficult conversation.