The Power of Listening and Not Being a “Fixer”

Physical distancing is important in order to stay healthy and to support others to stay healthy. In addition to doing our best to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the parents and the young adults we work with have had their college campuses close down and have suddenly been reunited within the same home with little notice. And for some, they continue to be apart, which comes with many worries and challenges. For most, if not all of the families we support, this is a time of major transition and challenge, which can lead to increased stress and more conflictual relationships.

The following tips and strategies are meant to equip with you with effective skills to utilize with your loved ones to lower the stress level in your home and relationships, improve communication, and increase the calm.

Tip 1: Validation: Validation communicates acceptance. We have a need to belong and feeling accepted by others is calming. Engaging in validation is extremely helpful when it comes to diffusing heated moments. When validated, the person who is upset will often feel calmer and is more able to hear what you have to say.  This will allow for a more fluid discussion to occur, which may result in you being able to come to an agreement.

Effective validation:

  1. Do your best to be reasonable and calm  before attempting to validate others. It will increase the likelihood of success. Taking time away from the stressor will help you validate.
  2. Listen first and foremost.
  3. Key step: Avoid giving advice.
  4. Give them your undivided attention. (e.g. put the phone down or turn the TV off).
  5. Ask clarifying questions to ensure they feel heard and to make sure you understand what they are wanting/needing. You are well on your way to successfully validating!
  6. Repeating back what you heard them say; This demonstrates that you were listening, and hearing you repeat back what they said validates their thoughts.
  7. It is important to not only validate their thoughts by repeating back what you heard them say, but more importantly, their feelings.

Examples of Validating Feelings/Experience:

  • Wow, that would be frustrating!
  • “He really said that? I’d be angry too!”
  • “Ah, that is so sad.”
  • “You have every right to be proud; that was a major accomplishment!”
  • “I’m so happy for you! You’ve worked incredibly hard on this. You must feel amazing.”

*Keep in mind that validating doesn’t mean you have to agree with their point of view, it means you listened and understand why they are upset. Once someone feels validated they often are able to solve the problem without your help or they are more open to allowing you to assist.

Invalidation: An invalidating response is anything that minimizes or dismisses another person’s feelings.

  • You’ll be fine.
  • “It could be worse!”
  • “At least it’s not [fill in the blank].”
  • “Just put a smile on your face and tough it out.”
  • “Don’t worry; things will work out.”
  • Telling them what to do & how to solve the problem is an invalidating approach.

Enjoy this very brief video about validation, not solving the problem, with a touch of humor: “It is not about the nail”:

Validating others is one of the most powerful skills we can employ as humans in order to maintain healthy relationships. And, it is also one of the more difficult skills to learn and use regularly. It will take practice; however, you and your loved ones will experience many benefits from doing so.