I know we have all heard that expression, “You catch more bees with honey than vinegar.” I think my grandmother used to say this a lot, she also thought vinegar was the honey and vinegar were the solutions to almost everything in life. I am sure many of us would agree, life is often full of “vinegar” moments. But consider the sweetness of honey, it’s simple, natural, and cuts right through the bitterness.
Let’s test that theory out. Say, your teen has been giving you “attitude” recently. She has been stressed at school, but hasn’t wanted to talk about it. In fact, she has even become downright rude recently. Giving you the cold shoulder, the withering eye look, and the whole sarcastic, “not right now, mom.”
But from her perspective, she is just stressed. She may not know why she is stressed, but she is taking it out on you. You know you don’t deserve this treatment from her, so you push back, “Stop acting so rude to me.” This could escalate further…
But, what if, instead, we applied the honey rather than vinegar approach? What if we started by validating her experience? If we could just tap into that teenage brain a bit, remember what it felt like to be a lonely, stressed out, emotional teen. What if you started by acknowledging those feelings. “I know you are stressed, honey, tell me more about what has been troubling you…”
Often validation is the most basic ingredient to change the course of conversation, to steer the ship toward compromise and solutions, and away from the rocky cliffs of heated argument. It is such a simple and easy concept, but why do we so infrequently apply it? Many times, we are so influenced by our own emotional response, and we want to convince the other person that we are right.
Validation does not have to mean agreement, or support of your child’s behavior. Perhaps they really are being rude. However, validation is a tactic useful to change someone’s emotional response, to lower their defenses, so they will actually listen to what you have to say. In DBT, there is the concept that offering validation will promote the balance between acceptance and change. In truth, most people are seeking validation. If we can respond to this quest at the heart of each of our interpersonal interactions, we will begin to notice a shift in our ways of relating to others.
So, how do you validate?
Often, you can begin by turning your attention to the person you are interacting with. How you validate may depend on your relationship to the individual, or their age or developmental level. For example, if your toddler is having a meltdown, you may validate with gestures, like a hug or a soft touch, letting them know that you are there to provide support. If the person you are interacting with is your spouse, you may begin by letting them know how much you care about them and their experience. For instance,”I can understand why you would be upset….”
Validation lets the other person know that you hear them and see them. That you respect their point of view, and their relationship with you. If you are speaking with someone whom you have no real prior relationship history, this may prove more challenging. But sometimes we can call upon the fact that we are all human, and validate the simple human experience.
Let’s re-cap. Validation is not a manipulation strategy, ploy, or gimmick. It is genuine recognition and attention to the other person’s position in their relationship to you. When you are able to validate the other person’s experience, you notice in kind, they will often respect and validate you.