In life and our relationships, one of the things we want most from the people around us is to feel heard and understood. Yet we often feel just the opposite! And miscommunications and relationship problems abound.

To really hear someone, we have to listen and then validate what we have heard them say. While this may sound simple and obvious, it seems to be consistently one of the least attended to parts of relationships. With technology and distractions of every kind, many of us find it hard to slow down and really attend to the person we are trying to connect with, whether it be at work or school, a friend or a family member.

The first part is of course listening! Putting down your phone and shutting off the TV/computer and giving the person you are trying to connect with your undivided attention.

Then moving on to validating what you have heard. Validating is the simple act of acknowledging another person’s experiences without judging them (invalidating them). Validation is the art of letting a person know not only that you heard what they have to say, but that you have also found a part of what they said that you can connect with or understand.

Validating does not mean that you have to agree with the other person’s thoughts or feelings, that’s a major misunderstanding about validation and a barrier for people to actually engage in validation strategies. Validating someone is simply acknowledging how they feel, and letting them know you’re not going to tell them to stop feeling what way. When you validate someone, you let them know there is some truth to what they are saying, and it’s OK for them to be thinking/feeling it.

The power of validating is that goes a long way toward helping the person you are trying to connect with to be more open and communicative. Maybe you need to ask for something. Maybe you need to address something that feels unresolved. Maybe you are just trying to improve a new relationship or repair one that has suffered some damage done to it. By validating what you hear, through your words, attitude and tone, you can lower defensiveness and invite the other person further into a conversation. And in doing so, will likely set the stage for them to really hear and validate your feelings. Even if they don’t agree.

So, how do you validate? There are an infinite number of ways you can validate someone’s experience, from small examples, like making eye contact and staying off your phone when they are speaking, to larger statements, like sharing a deep moment without even the need to talk. In the middle, you can practice by saying things like:

“I understand that you feel ____ and it makes sense to me because you’ve said ___ in the past.”

This sentence shows that you heard what they have to say (reflecting back to them what you heard them say they feel) and that, based on their own history, you understand how they got to that feeling. Another example is to connect it back to yourself, like this:

“I get it, because if someone had done ____ to me, I would also feel ___.”

Again, you’re showing that you really listened to what happened to the other person by repeating it, and you’re identifying with it.

The upside of tempering your judgement and opinions, and trying to instead validate what you have heard another person say, is that you can have conversations where you learn more about the other person. And in learning more you can identify ways to be helpful or to connect more deeply. You will also create an environment of caring and respect which will go a long ways towards improving the quality of your relationships, whether they be with peers or family members.