Validation comes first in powerful conversations

My husband is a problem-solver, as are many of my friends and colleagues. Humans love to be problem-solvers because when we solve a problem for someone (or think we have), we get a reward in the brain (a hit of dopamine – often referred to as the pleasure hormone), which is terribly addictive.

Not only that, being able to dish out advice from our technical expertise or from our experience gives us a sense of importance (also vital to the healthy functioning of our brain) and feeds our sense of self-worth as we have been hardwired to believe that our value is defined by what we know and the formal positions we hold (titles and pay rates). There are a number of issues with this, but the most notable being that I don’t feel heard, or more specifically, that you have not received validation, and so my sense of self-worth is challenged.

Regardless of the great advice I’m given, or the useful questions I’m asked, until I feel heard and validated, my brain won’t move forward. And the problem with that is that the person on the other end of the conversation is reluctant to validate a perspective or emotion they feel is incorrect or needs to shift.

But validate you must, because all experience is truth. My truth will always be different to your truth, but it will always be my truth. It’s a bit like when your toddler brings home their amazing painting of beautiful mummy, and mummy is unrecognisable, but of course you comment – “Wow, isn’t Mummy beautiful!”

Being able to accept and validate the perspectives and emotions in conversations is a critical first step to helping people think better and to develop great solutions to their challenges.

We can loosely categorise validation into three types: Subjective, Protective or Objective.

Subjective: “There is no need to feel upset about this”

Not particularly useful as I AM feeling upset and I have good reason! Get ready for me to shut down and not engage with you any further.

Protective: “OMG, did they make you feel upset? That is SOOO BAD!”

Also not very useful, as it feeds my “upsetness” and makes it OK to dwell there. Get ready for another 45 minutes of upset.

Objective: “I can see that you are upset”

Extremely useful. Yes, I am upset and I am grateful that you have noticed without making a big deal. I feel heard. (There is more to this around the value of labeling emotion, but that’s for another article!)

Spend some time noticing if you validate others in your conversations, and if you do, which kind of validation do you favour. Notice also the usefulness of the response you get.

And remember, this also applies to your own self-talk.

This is the first of a series of four articles on this topic – the second will follow this time next month.

Michelle Loch, communications and leadership expert in the neuroscience of human motivation, powerful conversation and self-leadership