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7 Ways To Validate Someone’s Feelings (Even If You Disagree)

No one likes the experience of being rejected or ignored. It’s why we all seek emotional validation. 

We need validation to feel a sense of worth and personal value. But it can be hard to achieve that, especially if you disagree with their perspective.

But there’s a way you can do it.

What is Validation?

Validation is the process of acknowledging and understanding someone’s emotional experience.

You probably do it every day without even realizing it. It’s easy to do when you agree with the person’s perspective and can empathize with their emotional response. Where we often collide is when we’re talking to someone who we disagree with.

But just because you disagree with someone, doesn’t mean you can’t validate their emotions. And that’s because validation is not agreement.

It’s merely how we show people that we understand where they’re coming from.

Validation In Action

Imagine that you work in a store, and you’re confronted with a customer who is plainly upset with the service they’ve received. Maybe you don’t agree with the customer’s assessment of the service, but arguing with the customer is unlikely to help.

The customer needs validation.

By showing the customer that you’re listening to them and trying to understand, you can help that customer feel better about the situation.

Even before you help the customer resolve their problem, you can help them calm down by giving them that feeling of validation. Using a few choice words, looking them in the eye, and taking the time to listen can go a long way.

We’ll talk about that more in a bit. 

Two people have a discussion and validate each other's feelings without agreeing
how to validate someone’s feelings without agreeing

Understanding the Difference Between Validation and Agreement

Validation and agreement are not the same thing, although they are commonly confused with one another. In fact, many people assume that validation can only come from agreement. 

Think of it this way: Validation is the act of saying “I understand.” Agreement is the act of saying “I agree.”

Some people struggle with this. I certainly have in the past.

Why Validation Is Complicated

Let’s be honest. Validation can be hard, especially when you don’t want to give the impression you agree when you don’t. 

After all, you don’t want to lie, but you don’t want to set them off either. Validation, when done properly, does not involve lying.

You can disagree with that hypothetical customer’s assessment of the situation while also trying to understand their perspective so you can find a solution.

Techniques for Validating Without Agreeing

So how do you walk the fine line of validating someone’s feelings, especially when you disagree with them? There are a few strategies you can try.

1. Active Listening

Active listening is a way of showing that you have genuine interest in what another person is saying. There are many things you can do to show active listening. 

  • Avoid distractions. Take the person you’re listening to into a space where you can hear what they’re saying without a lot of other things in the environment competing for your interest and attention. This may mean relocating to a room that is quiet, or turning off music and other sounds in the background. Think about that customer we talked about earlier. Taking them to a quiet room where they have your undivided attention may show that them that you’re serious about helping them. 
  • Make eye contact. When you make eye contact, this shows someone that you have their full attention as they are talking. Making eye contact can also show sincerity and compassion. 
  • Repeat back to them things you understand them to be saying. When you repeat back to someone the things they’ve told you, you show that you are listening. You also give them an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings. 
  • Use physical gestures and short responses that indicate that you’re listening. Physical gestures like turning your head toward someone can also show that they have your full attention. 

2. Asking Information-Seeking Questions

The person that you’re speaking with may say something that you don’t quite understand. Ask them probing questions. 

This helps them feel heard and helps them recognize that you are genuinely trying to understand what they’re saying.

Again, it doesn’t indicate agreement but does show that you wish to know more about their perspective and their feelings. This helps the person you’re talking with to feel recognized. 

3. Expressing Empathy

Expressing empathy is a way of showing that you recognize a person’s feelings, without saying that you have those feelings yourself. Here are some expressions that show empathy:

  • “I wish you didn’t have to go through that.”
  • “It sounds like you’re in a tough spot.”
  • “You must have felt really frustrated about that.”

It’s important to understand that expressing empathy and expressing sympathy are not the same. Sympathizing with a person is a way of showing that you have the same feelings. You can express empathy without showing sympathy.

4. Using Neutral Language

To the greatest extent possible, use neutral language when speaking with the person that you disagree with.

Avoid using words that indicate disagreement, because this could draw the conversation into a debate or even an argument, which is what we’re trying to avoid.

Remember, you don’t have to say, “I agree with you.” You can say more neutral things like, “I hear you,” and “I’m right here with you.”

5. Avoid Being the “Fixer”

It’s tempting to try to help the person that you’re listening to. Often, helping someone else feel better can make us feel better in the short-term.

However, attempting to “fix” someone’s problem can make them feel invalidated, while also implying that we agree with their position.

Rescuing someone from their own pain is not a form of validation. Giving advice is not validation. Take time to listen and show understanding, but avoid the temptation to tell them what to do. 

Now if they ask for your advice and you feel comfortable giving it, go right ahead! But it’s not required.

6. Wait to Respond

Don’t act on your first impulse when listening to them. Instead, wait until you have time to process and can give an empathetic response.

Think about your words before saying them. Take the time to pause.

Breathe in and out a few times, and respond when you feel comfortable saying what needs to be said. This is especially important if (like me) you’re a little to quick to say whatever comes to mind.

7. Don’t Be Afraid Of Silence

Sometimes silence is acceptable when you’re validating someone’s feelings.

Use the active listening strategies I talked about, like making eye contact, giving gestures that show you’re listening, and avoiding distracting environments.

If you don’t know what to say, you don’t have to say anything at all. Silence is golden, if you’re still showing the individual that they have your full and undivided attention.

Remember that customer I described – the one who’s feeling upset? Looking them in the eye and nodding a little as you listen is a great way to show listening. 

Honestly, sometimes that’s all people want from you.

For a professional perspective on this topic, check out this video:

The Importance of Feeling Heard and Understood

You feel good about being heard and understood, right? We all do. When we know others care enough to listen to us and understand what we’re saying, we feel more important, confident, and valued.

These are warm, happy feelings. This is why validation is so important. Validation can help people feel accepted, which matters to innately social creatures like humans. Even the loners and introverts among us need some form of connection and validation.

It’s good for our mental health and personal happiness. 

Sometimes that requires us to put our own feelings aside and hear somebody out, the way I’m sure others have done for us at times.

And honestly, if you can get good at this skill, you’ll go far because people will like and trust you.

Don’t worry if it feels unnatural to you. A lot of people (myself included) aren’t great at validating other people, but it’s a learnable skill, like so many things. So give it a go!

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