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Mind & Heart: All you need is L.U.V.
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 09/17/2007

Lightbulb Editor’s Note: This is part two of three from columnist Caterina Spinaris Tudor on effectively interacting with others. In part one, “Are you really listening, she discussed how to do this through the first part of her LUVEM theory. Here, she details the ideas of understanding and validating. In her column, Mind & Heart, she covers emotional intelligence skills.

As mentioned in my prior article, Are you really listening? 5/29/07 I explained that to interact effectively with others, whether at work or at home, we first need to listen well. Listening helps us understand the speaker’s issues and enables us to communicate effectively back to them. Such understanding can best be expressed through validating comments.

Understanding in this case means something deeper than simple comprehension. True understanding stems from our ability to view a situation from the speaker’s perspective. Active listening helps us do that by providing us with information about the speaker’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs, wishes and intentions. All these give us clues as to what makes the speaker “tick.” Such understanding makes it possible for us to de-escalate tensions or negotiate with others by suggesting win-win options. The old saying put it well, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

The ultimate gift of validation is letting other people know that we value their opinions, and that we can “hear” them without negative judgment. Validation helps build trust among individuals.

To get a feel for the value of validation, consider how you would react if you were told any of the following: "You have no reason to be upset." "Quit overreacting." "Your actions make no sense." or “This is the stupidest suggestion I’ve ever heard!” Most people, when talked to in this manner, put up defenses and withdraw their cooperation.

Active listening, understanding and validating, on the other hand, act like the grease that helps an engine run smoothly. Through them we gather information and communicate that we understand others’ position, that we can put ourselves in their shoes; “This must have felt uncomfortable.” “I see why you chose to do that.” “I can understand why you took it this way.”

In the heat of an argument the fastest way to help calm down an agitated person may be to validate their perspective. "I can see how you took it this way." Or, "No wonder you felt uncomfortable! I might have felt the same way in your shoes."

When we need to ask for change in another’s behavior, our request gets accepted a lot more easily when we validate the other’s position first, and then tag on our request, linking the two with the word "And." (Using AND instead of BUT reduces the chances that people will feel opposed by us and react by getting defensive.) For example, "Since you were asked to do overtime twice already this month, I can see why you’re not happy that you’ve been asked to come in on your day off this week. And the reality of the situation is that we do need you to come in again tomorrow."

To confront someone’s behavior without alienating them, we can use the tool of validation to point out even a shred of legitimacy, a kernel of wisdom, in what they did. “With your experiences at the other facility, I can see how to you this was the best decision to make in this situation.” And if we need them to do handle a situation differently in the future, the next step is instruction: “AND I’d like to show you now how we handle things in our program.” Instruction that follows validation is a lot easier to receive than instruction following criticism.

A key point that cannot be overemphasized is that validation does not mean agreeing with someone or condoning their behavior. By validating someone’s perspective we’re not telling them that they are right. We’re not conceding ground. We’re not excusing inappropriate choices. We’re simply communicating that we understand how their behavior—however unacceptable to us—came about. After we validate, we can proceed with confronting and making requests for change. "Given your bad experiences in the past, I can see how you got really uptight and you overreacted. AND what I want you to do from now on is to follow procedure X when that happens."

Validation is especially powerful in bringing about conflict reduction when the other person is aware that we do not agree with them and we do not endorse their actions. When they see us sincerely trying to understand their position, they may become more willing to consider our perspective in return.

Of course the tool of validation does not guarantee that others will accept us or cooperate with us. It does not provide a guarantee that relationships will improve. Some people may choose to keep a wall up in spite of our most skilled efforts at validating them.

Validation is not to be used to manipulate and mislead others. If we try to use it in that manner, sooner or later others will realize that we are not being honest and they will not trust us again.

However, when used with sincerity and sensitivity, validation produces smoother interactions with coworkers and loved ones. Consideration and empathy pay off.

Caterina Spinaris Tudor is a licensed professional counselor in Colorado with 23 years of clinical experience. She also is Executive Director of Desert Waters Correctional Outreach (DWCO), a Colorado not-for-profit corporation established in 2003, which is dedicated to increasing the occupational, personal, and family well-being of corrections and detention staff. Tudor oversees The Corrections Ventline, a national 24/7 phone and e-mail crisis intervention, support and referral hotline for corrections staff and their family members; counsels staff and their significant others, edits DWCO’s monthly educational newsletter, the Correctional Oasis, and offers training to corrections personnel nationwide. She holds a B.Sc. in psychology from University College London, England and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Calgary, Canada. She can be reached at (719) 784-4727 or at caterina@desertwates.com


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