This is part 2 of 3 of the “Validations and positive points” pathway from our Mental Health program designed to help employees have positive conversations about Mental Health
There are many ways to validate someone, but common phrases include:
“It’s normal to ______.”
“Anyone would ______ in your situation.”
“Given ______, it’s not surprising that ______.”
💡 Avoid saying “I” because it might switch the focus from them to you.
Hijab Virtual Hug GIF by @ifalukis.
Validations aren’t necessarily about agreeing. For example, if someone says they feel inadequate, a well-formed validation does not agree that they’re inadequate. Instead, you might say, “Given what you’ve gone through, it’s not surprising that you are feeling…”.
Don’t worry that validation will strengthen negative emotions. Of course, you don’t want to amplify an emotion like anger or sadness. Fortunately, telling someone their feelings are justified rarely makes them feel worse.
A good validation doesn’t parrot back obviously negative thoughts. If you don’t reframe (put things into your own words), it can suggest you are not connecting deeply. Plus, a parrot back can seem like you’re validating facts (“bad things happen”) rather than their personal experience and emotions.
A validation usually requires more than saying, “that’s valid”. A stock phrase works for some situations, but it risks seeming impersonal and insincere. Well-formed validations are more specific.
💬 Someone says: “I’ve been arguing with my girlfriend, and I can’t focus on my work.”
😶 Less effective response: “Everyone argues with their girlfriend.” (this is an unhelpful ‘parrot back’ and does not connect with how they’re feeling)
👏 More effective response: “Tension with someone you care about would take a toll on anyone.”
Stop Motion Love GIF By @mochimochiland.
💬 Someone says: “I got some feedback yesterday that has really got to me. They said that I’m not cut out for my new role because my loud personality makes me seem brash.”
😶 Less effective response: “Feedback is difficult to hear.” (this is not about their emotion, it’s dismissive, and reminding them of a fact they know is condescending)
👏 More effective response: “Oh, it makes total sense that would be difficult to hear — it would prey on anyone’s mind.”
GIF by @juliavillela-1701.
💬 Someone says: “I’ve been going through a rough patch with my self-esteem, and I know this sounds weird, but I think the rest of my team are laughing at me behind my back.”
😶 Less effective response: “That’s paranoia talking.” (even though you don’t agree with their conclusion, don’t dismiss them)
👏 More effective response: “It’s understandable that if you’ve been struggling with how you feel about yourself, this will influence how you experience your social interactions.”
Practically, validations let your conversation partner know that what they are saying is normal or justified. A well-formed validation doesn’t repeat word for word what someone says or dismiss them.
Can you think of an example of something someone might say that you’d like to make a validating response for?
Read next: Try This — Observe reactions to validations
This forms part of the Validations pathway in Mental Health Works, a program designed in partnership with Mental Health Innovations — the UK's leading digital mental health charity. This resource in particular gives you a practical action you can carry out in your usual conversations going forward to embed your learning.
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