If you have traveled or lived in different cities, you have probably noticed that cities not only have their own culture, but their own language too. People are speaking English (mostly), but the meaning of their words is different depending on the city you are visiting. For example—do you drink pop, soda, coke, or soda pop? Do you wear a toboggan or beanie? In Vegas, we drink soda and wear beanies, but growing up in Ohio I drank pop and wore a toboggan! It’s a weird concept to think about, but terminology can be defined by the culture we live in.
A particular word comes to mind when I think about this idea: validation. I am guessing this is not a word most people use or think about often unless you are a therapist, or live in Las Vegas. Or, in my case, a therapist who lives in Las Vegas! In Vegas, we are often told to get our tickets “validated.” Quite simply, this is a way for the casino industry to get you from the parking lot they provide into their casino. In order to leave the parking lot, you have to prove that you were present in their casino by getting your ticket stamped.
At the University of Cincinnati School of Social Work, I also learned about validation. The validation I am speaking of is a crucial piece in effective communication. To be able to validate someone you are conversing with is powerful. In effect, when done correctly, validation tells the other person that you are more invested in understanding them and their feelings than being right. This is huge in my opinion. I believe a lot of relationships could be saved if people learned this skill and used it often.
Everyone wants to be heard and understood. Who is going to continue an argument when the other person is able to hear your feelings and understand why you feel this way? But it takes setting ourselves aside for a minute and truly listening to the person before us. Not easy. In its most basic form, showing someone you are present and you have heard what they are saying is very similar to the proof that the casinos want that you actually entered their establishment. In essence, you prove that you heard by restating what they said. You put a “stamp on their ticket.”
There are more effective levels of validation though. Beyond just hearing and repeating what a person is saying, being able to connect what that person is feeling and have some understanding as to why they are feeling this particular way is another level of validation. For example: “I hear what you are saying, and I understand why you would feel this way.” And the most effective form of validation is connecting it all—hearing, understanding and then adding the personal connection with a “because” that links it to a reason in that person’s life they would have particular feelings. I know what some are thinking—validation assumes agreement. Wrong! Just because I get my ticket stamped doesn’t mean I am obligated to engage in casino activities. It just means I was there. End of story. Same with communication validation—doesn’t mean you agree with the person’s feelings—just that you listened to what they are feeling and have some understanding as to why.
Beware, however, telling someone you disagree with their feelings by use of the word “but” in the course of validating them; it instantly invalidates. End of story.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Nishanth Jois