Validate No Matter What

by Gloriana Hunter

How do we validate someone when we don't agree with their thoughts, opinions, or choices? Learn how to validate anyone - no matter what - in four Peer Hacks.

  • Number of words: 694
  • Time to read: about 4 minutes
  • Value: Priceless

A long, long time ago, when I was a wee peer support specialist, I thought that validation equated with pointing out strengths. I’d walk around saying, “You sure are strong!” or “Wow, you persevered through that!?!” or “Dang-diggity-dang, your resilience is AM-AZ-ING!” Ok, so I never really said that last one. Well, maybe I did, but let’s move along, shall we?

Over the years, I realize that pointing out strengths is not the same as validation. When we do not demonstrate genuine validation, pointing out strengths can sound fake and patronizing. How do we put validation in place for the folks we serve? Here are four hacks that will make a difference.

Hack 1 – Listen without input of our own thoughts and ideas. Listening is the simplest and most effect forms of validation. We are saying to the person, “You’re worth hearing. Your words are important.” It is also way too easy to add our own two-cents into the conversation. We have brilliant ideas, after all. We become compelled to share our deep thoughts. We must add our stories to enhance the conversation. Once we start down this road, we stop listening. In truth, when we honestly validate through listening. It is not about us. We have no story in this scenario. Our job is to hear their story, remember that details, and be mindful about who they are and what they are expressing.

Hack 2 – Practice thoughtfulness. This is not the type of thoughtfulness when we pick the perfect gift for somebody in our personal life whom we care about (see the ethics and boundaries section on gift giving in your local peer support training). It is deeply tied to the mindfulness of listening. When we experience fully listening and remember what was said, we can be mindful to share tidbits of information that show we care. It might be as simple as, “Remember when you talked about how much you love Frank Sinatra? I heard one of his songs yesterday, and it made me think of you.”  Or as profound as, “Remember last week when you said getting out of your apartment has been tough for you? You were on my mind yesterday, so I did some research. Would you like to look at what I found?” This is where thoughtfulness becomes personalized and tailored to the individual’s specific story.

Hack 3 – See the emotion behind their words. We don’t need to validate a choice that may not work out for the best. We also know that, when most choices in life come from the same place where our emotions live. This Peer Hack will come in handy when we feel we want to take over their choices and replace them with our own. By the way, feeling like you want to take over? That is an emotion. Validate it.

Hack 4 – Expand on thoughts and opinions that are different than yours. We like people who are like us. “Like” us could mean a variety of things, but generally, we hang with people who have similar spirituality, politics, education, and socio-economic status. This isn’t a blanket statement, but it is the reality for most of us, and we do not want disdain for our thoughts and ideas.In our field, choice is cherished. When a person expresses themselves, they are practicing choice and self-determination. When we kibosh it, we are not only robbing the opportunity for growth and self-determination, we are breaking the code of ethics (again, see the ethics and boundaries section on choice and self-determination). Expanding on a person’s ideas is the sweet spot of peer support.

An example dialogue which includes all four hacks might go something like this: “You want to buy TV now and pay your electric bill next month (Hack 1). What are your favorite TV programs (Hack 2)? Oh, I like that one, too. (Hack 3). How much time do you have to pay your electric bill, so you don’t miss any episodes (Hack 4)?

These ideas are simple, but they are not easy to implement. We can commit, however, to squish out our ego to validate people right where they are. That is a sweet spot, indeed.

What is a “Peer Hack”? It is the appropriate use of your cleverness to build rapport faster than you would by a standard approach. Some will call these hacks down-and-dirty. I prefer to call Peer Hacks "a carefully crafted blast of ingenuity". ~Gloriana Hunter

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