I want to share two very powerful communication skills with you.
They go hand in hand and using them together will deepen and strengthen your relationships. They’ll help your people feel accepted and understood. They can support someone in sadness and lift them in their joy.
These skills are acknowledging and validating.
Big words for concepts that are actually really simple. No fancy degree required.
But putting them into practice is not always easy. They’re skills not many of us have been taught or have even experienced much in our lives.
In fact, when you first start doing this it can feel a little awkward, but trust me, it’s so worth it
When you can acknowledge and validate the people in your lives, especially our partners and children, and even ourselves, it is magical in transforming our relationships.
Acknowledging: We All Want to Feel Heard
When we acknowledge what someone says it shows them that we are deeply listening, and that we care. We are paying attention. And to us humans, especially the little ones, attention is love.
It supports that deep, primal longing that we all have to feel heard and witnessed.
Doing this when things are going well can amplify the good feelings. But acknowledging someone in challenging times can be when it’s most powerful.
We all see the world through our own objective realities and when we pause to listen and acknowledge the experience of someone else it helps us to understand where they are coming from.
We don’t have to agree but we are communicating that we understand their point of view and experience.
Here’s how to do it…
As much as possible, release judgments and approach listening from a place of curiosity. Let go of your own agenda and ideas and truly listen. Then mirror back or paraphrase what was said.
Some approaches to acknowledging are:
- “What you’re saying is…”
- “What I’m hearing you say is…”
- “In other words…”
- “Let me repeat that so I make sure I got it.”
At the end, you can even ask, “Did I get that right?” so they can clarify if needed.
Validating: We All Want to Feel Accepted.
After acknowledging, the next step is to validate the emotion and experience. Validating normalizes emotions.
Often, we have a lot of judgment about emotions, especially difficult emotions like anger or sadness. We can get defensive when others have those feelings around us, we often want to “fix” them and move past them quickly because it makes us uncomfortable. We may even feel guilty for having those feelings ourselves.
The thing is the more we resist emotions the more they persist.
Instead, if we hold space for emotions and validate the truth of them, those emotions can be released and they lose power.
Here’s how to do it…
With sincerity and without judgment of right or wrong, agreeing or disagreeing, you let the other person know you can see things from their perspective and that their feelings are valid.
You can use phrases like…
- “It is understandable that you feel that way because…”
- “You have every right to feel [name the emotion] because…”
- “It’s totally normal (or natural) to feel that way.”
- “It makes sense that you would feel that way.”
One important piece is to keep “I” out of it. Try not to say, “I know how you feel,” or “I understand” because that shifts the energy from them to us and we really can’t truly know how others are feeling.
Understand to be Understood
Why is any of this important? Because people will not look at things differently unless they first feel heard.
As in the well known Stephen Covey adage, “Seek first to understand before being understood,” If you want others to see your point of view, then you need to be willing to see theirs.
Naming and normalizing emotions help us make sense of them and builds emotional intelligence, in ourselves and in our children. The healthy expression of our emotions has a positive impact on so many areas of our lives.
In the first episode of her new podcast, Understanding Us, Brene Brown and researcher Marc Brackett have a fascinating discussion about the importance of emotional intelligence and giving ourselves and our loved ones, “permission to feel.”
The Concepts in Action
With a Partner
Your Partner: “I feel like I’m losing my mind trying to juggle work with the kids at home bouncing off the walls!”
You: “There’s a lot of pressure on you to get work done and the kids are really distracting and making it difficult. Of course you feel overwhelmed and frustrated. That’s so normal in this situation.”
Acknowledging your partner’s emotion without hearing it as a criticism and getting defensive opens the door to problem-solving rather than blame.
With a Child
Your child is upset that they have to turn off their screens.
You (getting down to child’s eye level): “You love this show and wish you could watch it all night, it’s no wonder you feel mad when it’s time to turn it off.”
Taking a moment to let your child know their feelings are valid and you can hear them without taking them on for yourself and still keeping your boundaries, can ease the resistance around a transition.
You can even give yourself a little love and tenderness by putting a hand on your heart and acknowledging your emotions and experience without judgment or spinning a story.
“I feel really sad right now and that’s okay. It’s perfectly natural to feel this way because I’m worried about my family, my community, and the state of the world.”
Naming and acknowledging your feelings allows them to move through you and release so you can consciously respond, rather than unconsciously holding on to them and reacting.
It’s Your Turn
Acknowledging and validating takes some practice and might even feel a little awkward at first but it has the power to shift conflict to connection, hurt to healing.
It’s are a powerful way to create a culture of love and acceptance in our families and within ourselves. We all need more of that!
What questions do you have about acknowledging and validating? For the next week give it a try with your people and with yourself, and tell me about your experience. What shifted? Share in the comments.