In this episode we discuss crazy research that can predict 94% of the time whether or not your relationship will be successful. We reveal why you should NEVER give someone unsolicited advice. We share the communication “Swiss army knife” that you can use to build rapport, influence anyone, and deepen the most important relationships in your life and much more with our guest Michael S. Sorensen.
Michael S. Sorensen is an award-winning author, marketing executive, relationship coach, researcher, and personal development junkie. He is the author of the best-selling I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships and the 3-Minute Morning Journal.
Listen, seek to understand, and then validate
People question if we understand how they are feeling
Reflective listening vs validation
Crazy research that can predict 94% of the time whether or not your relationship will be successful.
The 3 primary ways of responding:
Happily married couples validate each other more than 87% of the time.
Divorced couples validated each other only 33% of the time.
The biggest takeaway from this interview - don’t give unsolicited advice!
When you give people advice they get defensive, and then both parties get frustrated pretty quickly.
In today’s societies we have serious difficultly processing and understanding our emotions.
Most of the time what people want is NOT advice, they want help processing the difficult emotions that they are experiencing.
Reframe: Ask yourself “So, what are you gonna do about it?"
When you jump in and give advice, you miss out on an opportunity to show them respect and an opportunity for them to grow.
Validation can help when someone is experiencing both negative and positive emotions.
Validation is a tremendously powerful negotiation tool. When people feel heard and understood they are more likely to listen to you and understand you.
Validation helps you break down defensiveness.
What is validation?
Offering a justification for emotion.
You’ll be fine.
At least it’s not ____
Things will get better
Tough it out
It’s not that big of a deal.
To be an effective communicator you have to communicate to people the way they ARE, not the way you want them to be.
We often invalidate OURSELVES too - saying “it’s fine” or “I shouldn’t feel this way”
You can’t repress an emotion and get away with it - they come back stronger and stronger. Repressed emotions are the root of many negative behaviors.
We repress ourselves both ways - positively and negatively. When we experience positive things we should validate ourselves.
Why you should accept complements instead of deflecting them.
How do you validate and justify an emotion that you don’t agree with?
Lessons from dealing with someone who has schizophrenia - and how you can validate emotions that you “disagree with”
Justifying emotions - “it makes sense, given what you think, that you feel that way”
4 Steps of Validation
Validate the emotion
Offer advice or encouragement
Do you ever feel like someone isn’t listening to you? Maybe you need to flip the script and ask if you’ve really been listening to THEM.
“Given what you’ve said, I completely understand why you would feel that way."
A lot of emotional problems are a result of parents or people close in our lives who invalidated our negative experiences.
Dealing with your emotions is HARD. Your emotions are unruly. Imagine how scary your emotions are as an adult, children don’t have the tools to deal with their emotions.
Homework: the next tough conversation you have, don’t give them your advice.
Thank you so much for listening!
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This week's episode of The Science of Success is presented by Dr. Aziz Gazipura's Confidence University!
You can learn to confidently connect with others, be bold, feel proud of who you are, and create the life you truly deserve!
Don't Wait and Wonder! Find Out Today!
Want To Dig In More?! - Here’s The Show Notes, Links, & Research
Michael’s “5 Must-Read Relationship Books”
“Validation: The Most Powerful Relationship Skill You Were Never Taught” by Michael Sorensen
Medium - “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book, with Michael S. Sorensen and Chaya Weiner” by Chaya Weiner
Sarah Anne Carter - “I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Michael S. Sorenson” by Sarah Anne Carter
[Podcast] Dr Brenda Wade Modern Love - Michael S. Sorensen: I Hear You
[Podcast] Peculiar People Podcast - Episode 33: Michael S Sorensen
[Podcast] The Art of Charm - How to Improve Your Workplace Communication | Michael Sorensen (Episode 721)
[Podcast] The Process Podcast - Michael Sorensen – A Communication Superpower that Will Profoundly Affect All of Your Relationships
Jason Headley - It's Not About The Nail
Parent Like a Pro Summit - Dr. Tina Baker: Michael S Sorensen
Lillian McDermott Radio Show - I Hear You - Michael Sorensen - 10-9-18
Mellisa Dormoy, CHt - Your SUPER SECRET WEAPON for AMAZING RELATIONSHIPS, and FOR Parenting Kids and TEENS!
[Book Review] Bookwyrm Bites - REVIEW: I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Michael S. Sorensen
[Book Summary] Success Summaries - Book Summary: I HEAR YOU Summary MICHAEL S. SORENSEN
[Book] I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Michael S. Sorensen
[eBook and course] 10 Days to Better Relationships
[infographic] The Gottman Institute - Marriage and Couples
[00:00:04.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than four million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we discuss crazy research that can predict 94% of the time, whether or not your relationship will be successful. We reveal why you should never give someone unsolicited advice. We share the communication Swiss Army knife that you can use to build rapport, influence anyone and deepen the most important relationships in your life and much more with our guest, Michael S. Sorensen.
Are you a fan of the show and have you been enjoying the content that we put together for you? If you have, I would love it if you signed up for our e-mail list. We have some amazing content on there, along with a really great free course that we put a ton of time into called How To Create Time for What Matters Most In Your Life. If that sounds exciting and interesting and you want a bunch of other free goodies and giveaways along with that, just go to successpodcast.com. You can sign up right on the homepage. That’s successpodcast.com. Or if you’re on your phone right now, all you have to do is text the word “smarter”, that’s S-M-A-R-T-E-R to the number 44-222.
Are you feeling too distracted to pay attention? Does listening make your brain hurt? In a world full of noise and distraction, listening is the biggest leadership hack in today's world. In our previous episode, we cracked the code on how to deeply listen, how to listen to what is unsaid and tons of specific hacks and tactics you can use to take your listening skills to the next level with our previous guest, Oscar Trimboli. If you want to massively level up your leadership skills, listen to our previous episode.
Now, for our interview with Michael.
[0:02:08.8] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Michael S. Sorensen. Michael is an award-winning author, marketing executive, relationship coast, researcher and personal development junkie. He's the author of the best-selling I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships and 3-Minute Morning Journal. His work has been featured in many publications across the Internet. Michael, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:02:33.5] MS: Thanks for having me.
[0:02:34.5] MB: Well, we're super excited to have you on the show today. I think it's such an important topic that you talk about and I hear you and I really want to start with just a simple question, which is what is this concept of validation? Why does it matter?
[0:02:51.2] MS: Sure. In most societies, we’re taught the importance of listening, right? Of being a “good listener.” Usually when we when we think about that, we think of the obvious things, well give them your attention, look at them. Sometimes people say, “Repeat back what they just said to show them that you were listening.” Really what my book focuses on though is that there's more to it than just that. My primary argument in the book is that the truly great listeners of the world do more than just listen. They listen, seek to understand and then validate.
Validation in essence means helping the other person feel heard and understood. In its simplest form, it means saying, “Oh, I hear you. I get how you're feeling. I understand where you're coming from.” Because most people don't question whether or not we understand the words they say, they question whether or not we understand how they're feeling.
That is essentially what validation is is it's a way to show the other person that you get where they're coming from, that you hear how they're feeling and it's incredibly powerful what that does to your relationships, whether they're romantic, whether they're with your family, or whether they're in the business world. Frankly, it's a superpower. It's something that has transformed my life and which is why now I'm sharing it as best I can with the rest of the world.
[0:04:08.8] MB: There's several different things I wanted to dig into about that. Tell me more about the difference between what most people think of as being a good listener and what it really means to use this technique of validation.
[0:04:21.5] MS: Sure. One of the principles that I was taught quite a bit growing up is reflective listening, right? I alluded to it earlier in the intro there that oftentimes, we're taught to repeat back what the other person is saying. While that works, it feels a little clinical, it feels a little forced, especially if we don't change the words, right? If you say, “Oh, gee. I'm so upset, because my wife is never doing all this and she's always getting after me because of that,” and then your friend just repeats back, “Okay, so let me understand. You're upset because you're feeling your wife just keeps getting after you, right.” It just feels weird.
Whereas really, when people are coming to you venting, when they're coming to you with a problem, they don't typically want you to fix it, they want you to show them that you're understanding how they're feeling. A more validating response would just be going, “Oh, my gosh. That sucks. Or that's so annoying, right?” How are you going to handle that? What are you going to do? It shows that you're connected with how they're feeling.
While listening, obviously is important. You have to listen to what they're saying, to even understand where they're coming from, but the validation takes it to the next step and it doesn't give advice, it doesn't try to make them feel better or give assurance. You just say, “Ah, gee. That's tough,” right? Or, “Of course, you're embarrassed, or of course you're proud.” Whatever it is, you're helping them justify the emotion that they're feeling.
[0:05:43.2] MB: There's some really interesting science around this. Tell me about the ability to look at a relationship and through the lens of validation, potentially forecast, or even predict the health, the quality of that relationship.
[0:05:58.8] MS: Sure. Sure. I don't know how many of your listeners are familiar with Dr. John Gottman. He's a world-renowned marriage researcher. He and his colleagues conducted a study that I find fascinating. In fact, this is one of the bits of research that that pushed me over the edge, that helped me really understand the power of validation.
Doing my best to summarize the study, they invited over a 100 newlywed couples to come visit their lab at the University of Washington, which they decorated to look like a beautiful bed and breakfast. They invited these couples to spend the weekend there and do what newlywed couples typically do; cook breakfast, talk, watch TV, do whatever, while they observe their interactions, which I think is a little creepy, if you think about it, right? “Hey, come on in. We got cameras set up. We're going to record every word you say. Don't mind us.” I guess, people are willing to do crazy things for money in science.
Nonetheless, Dr. Gottman and his colleagues were focused on understanding the dynamic between these couples. Their primary a goal here was to figure out what it was that the happy, married couples did that those who later divorced did not. They observed their interactions. Ultimately, they followed up six years later with each of these couples to see whether they were married and together and happy, or whether they were separated or divorced.
What they found was the way that these couples interacted with each other in the subtle ways, made all the difference. For example, if the couple sitting at the dinner table and the husband looks outside and he sees a beautiful red car go by and he goes, “Oh, honey. Check out that car.” His wife can now respond in one of three ways; she can respond positively, or in a validating way, you could say, which would be, “Oh, that's awesome. I love that color, or that's such a cool car.” Or she could respond negatively, “Oh, that's hideous. I hate that.” Or she could respond passively, “That's nice dear,” right? Not really paying much attention. Those were the three main ways of responding.
What he found was six years down the line, those who were married and happy, they responded positively. They validated each other 87% of the time. Almost nine times out of 10 when they had these little comments, these little requests, or discussions, their spouse responded positively with these validating responses. Whereas those who had divorced, six years later they validated each other only 33% of the time.
Quite a big difference there in the overall satisfaction of the marriage. What really knocked my socks off was learning later that by observing these interactions and similar interactions, Dr. Gottman can apparently predict with up to 94% certainty, whether couples will be married and happy years down the line.
[0:08:46.4] MB: That's amazing. 94% predictive power based off of this simple technique of validation.
[0:08:53.1] MS: Yeah.
[0:08:55.0] MB: I want to dig into more about this, how do we start to use the tool of validation in our conversations and our lives and the way that we engage and communicate with people?
[0:09:07.2] MS: Sure. In my book, I've created what I call the four-step validation method. Maybe we can dive into that a little bit later here on the show. As far as how to get started, the number one tip that I give everybody, like if I can give you one tip, if you take nothing else away from this, it's to not give unsolicited advice.
The reason I say that, I imagine most your listeners are already nodding your heads going, “Yes, that makes sense. I hate that,” right? I think all of us have had an experience where we go and we're talking to somebody and we're telling them about a problem, or something we're dealing with and they immediately launch in with, “Well, you should do this, or here's how I would handle it, or have you tried that?”
We know that they mean well, but there's something inside of us most often that gets defensive, right? There's something very odd about that and I don't know if anyone else can relate to that, but I certainly could think back to dozens, if not hundreds of experiences in my life where I'm coming to someone complaining and then they give me advice and then suddenly, I get defensive. They say, “Well, you should do this.” I say, “I've already did that.” “Well, have you tried that?” “Well, that's not going to work, because blah, blah, blah.”
Pretty quickly, both parties are frustrated, because I'm all uptight because I'm thinking, “Why are you trying to fix my problems?” The other person's thinking, “Well, I'm trying to fix your problem. Why else are your coming to me? Why aren't you taking my advice here?” The reason is because most people are just looking for validation. Again, they're just looking for somebody to say, “I get where you're coming from and that's hard.” That to me is the very first step.
Obviously, listening to the other person, but as best as possible, hold back on your advice. Hold back on just saying, “Oh, it'll be fine. Oh, don't worry,” because those are very invalidating statements and they actually shoot the other person down.
[0:10:46.4] MB: Interesting. Tell me more about this idea of not giving people unsolicited advice.
[0:10:52.6] MS: One of the biggest problems I think that we face in today's world is an inability to – maybe not an inability, but difficulty regulating our own emotions. I'm focusing in on the validation here and I’m helping people feel heard and understood, because that is one of the quickest ways to help somebody deal with difficult emotions. I'm focusing a lot on the negative fear, right? If you can imagine a friend or a co-worker coming to you and they're venting, right? We all run into situations like this where they're venting, they're complaining to you about something.
Again, it's natural to think that they want our help fixing it. The reason I say to hold off on giving advice is because most of the time, that's not what they want. Most of the time what they want is help processing the difficult emotion that they're feeling. I'll give you an example. I had my brother called me, this is a number of years ago. He was dealing with a very difficult situation at work. I remember thinking right off the bat, “Oh, I've got the perfect solution here. I know exactly how to handle it.”
I had just started learning about validation at the time. I was meeting with a therapist, which is actually where I gained most of my knowledge on these concepts here. I thought, “Okay, well he probably doesn't want my solution right away. He probably just wants to feel heard.” I listened to him. I did my best to validate him and I just said, “Gee, that's tough, man. I get where you're coming from.”
Then I was about to jump in with my solution, but I thought, “You know what? I'm going to try something different here.” I asked him a question. I said, “What are you going to do about it?” He paused for a second and he said, “Well, you know what? I think that I'm going to do this, this and this.” It was the exact recommendation that I was about to give him. It was the exact solution that I thought was so brilliant in my own mind.
That taught me a valuable lesson. That's that most people already have a solution to the problem in their mind, or they can at least get there pretty quickly, if you just ask them a question. If you jump in and give advice right away, you've miss out on an opportunity for them to grow and you miss out on an opportunity to show them respect. Because when I instead of just jumping in and giving you advice, I say, “Gee, that's tough. What are you going to do about it?” You have a chance to tell me, well, there's a lot more respect there, right? You then look at me and go, “Hey, I appreciate you not just saying, “Oh, that's easy. I got the solution here,”” and diving into it.
[0:13:10.9] MB: That's such a great point that most of the time what people want is not the advice, but they want help to process whatever they've just experienced, whatever those difficult emotions are that they're dealing with.
[0:13:21.8] MS: Yeah, it's powerful.
[0:13:23.1] MB: It's so interesting and feels very counterintuitive, because it's so easy for us to jump to that feeling, or that need, or that desire. I think, I especially fall prey to this to want to jump in immediately and help them and say, “Oh, you should do this and this and this.” Yet, the counterintuitive and seemingly lower paths of listening to their feelings, validating the emotions that they're dealing with, can create more influences, what it sounds like.
[0:13:51.2] MS: Absolutely. Well and one other thing I want to just hit here before we go much further is obviously, we've jumped in to the negative, “Oh, the person is complaining and here's how I handle it.” I want to be clear here that validation is powerful, because this isn't just a way to help deal with your poor, sulking friend, right? Or your brother that always comes and complains to you.
Validation is powerful, because it helps you help other people in their time of need, but it also is a tremendously valuable negotiation tool. Because when people feel heard and understood, then they're more likely to listen to you and to better understand you. It's tremendously connecting when you're able to validate people's positive emotions. When somebody comes to you and they're all excited, they want you to be excited with them. Plenty of research backs that up and as well as common sense that you like to be with other people who are excited when you're excited.
Validation helps you break down walls of defensiveness. It helps you calm tense situations, when someone's coming at you and they're angry and they're accusing you of something. It's an amazingly almost Jedi mind-trick style way to help navigate those relationships, or those conversations. Yes, well it's powerful in helping people deal with difficult situations. I hope that your listeners can come to see throughout the course of this interview that this is actually the Swiss Army knife, if you will, of communication skills and has applications in every aspect of their lives.
[0:15:14.2] MB: An important meta point that comes out of that is this idea that if we want to be really effective communicators, we have to communicate to people the way that our brains are wired biologically, in the way that psychology tells us are the most effective strategies, not necessarily the ways that we feel like we should be communicating with them.
[0:15:32.8] MS: Yes, absolutely.
[0:15:34.7] MB: I want to explore a little bit more and maybe even hear another example or two of the prototypical invalidating response, the opposite of validation, so that people can get a sense of how they may be responding in a way that isn't fostering the most effective communication channels.
[0:15:55.8] MS: I love that you asked that. Most people are very invalidating when they're trying to help people. Yeah, so let's dive into a few examples here. First, may be helpful to just quickly define validation a little more simply. Validation is recognizing any motion and offering justification for feeling that emotion. On the flipside, in validating responses, they shoot down whatever the other person's feeling, whether aggressively or just subtly. They basically save, they dismiss it, they minimize it and they say, “It's just going to be fine.”
Some examples of invalidating statements, “You'll be fine. It could be worse. At least it's not fill in the blank,” all right? It really doesn’t matter what else you put in there. If it starts with at least it's not blank, then that can actually be quite invalidating. It might be a comment such as, “Oh, just put a smile on your face and tough it out, or things will get better. Don't worry, things will work out.” None of those are rude responses, right?
If I'm in a room teaching this, I always ask for a raise of hands, “How many people here have said something like this to someone in their life?” Every hand goes up. Because we mean well, we're trying to help the other person. Yet as we've started talking that today, those are actually counter-helpful. Counter-helpful. Is that a word? Those aren't helpful. It seems counterintuitive, but those actually tell the other person, “Whatever you're feeling, it's not okay. You shouldn't feel that way. Just push it down.” That doesn't usually help.
[0:17:25.8] MB: I want to explore a little bit more the two components that you just mentioned of a validating response, recognizing an emotion and then offering a justification for it. How do we start to recognize what the emotion is and how complex, or complicated, or difficult is that part need to be to really effectively validate people?
[0:17:46.9] MS: Sure. Thankfully, it doesn't need to be complex or complicated at all. In fact, a lot of people do this naturally. Really, it has its roots in empathy, right? Sympathy is typically standing on the outside looking into someone's situation and saying, “Oh, you poor thing. That looks so hard. Wish you best.” Whereas, empathy typical means getting into it with them and saying, “Ah, gee. This is hard. I get why you're feeling – Oh, man. I don't know what I would do in your situation.”
As far as crafting the validating response, if you will, really it hinges on being able to empathize with the other person, at least to a certain extent. There are going to be situations where you can't empathize with them. You can at least appreciate what they're going through. I mentioned the – in fact at the first chapter of my book, I shared a story years ago when I was dating a woman, was actually just the first date. I'm sitting down there with her at the table and she's just totally closed off emotionally. It was odd to me, because when I first asked her out she was bubbly and friendly and everything and I thought, “Oh, this is great. We'll have a great time.”
Well, that wasn't the case at this ice cream shop that we were at. Every question I asked was met with a one-word answer. She just felt totally closed off and I couldn't figure it out. Literally, it was 15 minutes, Matt, that I was into it and I'm like, “Okay, I think I'm just going to take her home, because she clearly doesn't want to be here. I misread the situation. I don't know what's going on here, but she clearly doesn't want to be on this date.”
I was about to do that. In fact, we actually were in my car headed back, because I was like, “Okay, here we go.” I asked her a question about her family and she paused. I could just tell by her energy and the way that she paused that it was a sensitive subject. I thought, “Ah, okay. Maybe there's something here that's not about me.” She said, “Well, my parents just filed for a divorce.” In that moment, the lightbulb went on inside my head because I thought, “Oh, that's why she's not having a good time tonight. Her mind is elsewhere and she's struggling with this.”
My parents haven't divorced. I haven't dealt with, and so I couldn't technically empathize with her because I hadn't been in her shoes, but I could see that she was in a lot of pain. I just said, “Oh, that's got to be so hard. I'm so sorry.” She quickly said, “Oh, it's fine. I'm good.” Put on this tough girl face that wasn't very convincing.
In that moment, I recognized that she just needed to feel heard and appreciate. I said, “That's not fine. That's got to be incredibly difficult. I honestly cannot – I can't even imagine what you're going through.” Her walls just collapsed. She just melted and she just started talking. She just like, “Yeah, it really sucks, especially when all this is happening and this is happening and your best friend tells you to just put a smile on your face and tough it out.” She just goes on. We started talking for the next two hours and she just completely opens up to me.
It all started with just a simple attempt to connect to just try to empathize, or at least appreciate where she was coming from and then show that by just validating what she was feeling, giving her permission to feel what she was dealing with.
[0:20:54.3] MB: You brought up a really interesting corollary of this entire idea in that story, which is when she said, “Oh, it's fine.” That's the idea that we often invalidate not only other people, but ourselves.
[0:21:07.9] MS: Yes. A 100%. That's one of the things that I – I love that you point that out, because a lot of us don't catch it. That very statement, like you pointed out, “Oh, I'm fine.” It's fine. That's a very invalidating statement, because you're telling yourself, “I shouldn't feel this way. I'm feeling anger. I'm feeling frustration. I'm feeling fear. I don't know what's going to happen.” Don't feel that way, is what you're saying to yourself.
Again, that doesn't – I mean talk to any psychologist, any therapist, you cannot repress emotions like that and get away with it. They always come back to bite, usually stronger, right? It's oftentimes repressed, repressed emotions are the root of addictions, of any form of acting out. I mean there's so many issues that come up when we just repress those. While it's a gift to offer validation to others, it's also critical that we learn to validate ourselves, that when we're upset about something, we're able to say, “You know what? Of course, I'm upset. Anybody in my situation would feel the same way, because this, this, this happened.”
While some people might say, “Well, how is that healthy? Because now you're just fueling your fire.” Well, when we allow ourselves permission to feel the emotions, it shines light on the festering wound. It allows it to heal, allows it to breathe. It works again just as well on the positive side. If I'm feeling really proud of something that I just did, well oftentimes we shoot that down too, right? We say, “Don't get all cocky. Nobody likes to hear someone who's bragging.” “No. I did an awesome job on that.”
There's a lot of power in being able to validate yourself and say, “I kicked butt on that project. I feel good about it.” Again, that's very healthy, because it allows us to feel any emotion. It just allows us to live a freer, fuller life.
[0:22:54.3] MB: Such a great point about positive emotion as well. Even something as simple as taking a compliment from somebody else, many people really struggle with something like that.
[0:23:03.8] MS: Yeah. Oh, yeah. What is it? That's the root of the humblebrag, right? We try to not look too grandiose or whatever, but yeah, that it even plays out when someone compliments us really. “Oh, thanks.” Or, “Oh, it's not that big of a deal, or whatever.” I'm not a proponent of that. I used to do that. I still have the tendency to, but I'm working on getting better at just thanking them. “Hey, thank you. It means a lot.” I think that goes a long way.
[0:23:31.4] MB: Yeah there's a really authentic way where you can say something very similar to what you said, the idea of, “Oh, thank you so much. I really appreciate it, or it really means a lot to me that you would say that. I worked really hard on that.” Or something that doesn't downplay yourself, or minimize your own experience.
[0:23:46.7] MB: Right. I mean, to anybody who's been on the giving end of a compliment and then the other person says, “No, no, no. It's not or whatever.” It doesn't feel very good. It's basically like, “Hey, I'm giving you a gift,” and you just get pushing it back in my face and saying, “No. Actually, I don't want that.” Which again, we don't think of it as that, but that's what happens when we dismiss or downplay a compliment. Accept the gift. Be grateful. I love what you said there. Yeah.
[0:24:14.2] MB: Hey, do you ever feel shy, anxious or scared to talk to someone? I'm here for another lightning round insight with confidence expert Dr. Aziz Gazipura to answer that question.
[0:24:27.5] AG: Feeling nervous around people, feeling inferior around people, even if we try to hide it is extremely limiting in our lives and our dating life, social life, even our careers. It's essential that we break out of this. I think oftentimes, people think, “I can't. This is just how I am. In fact, that's what I believe for many years.” The truth is that the issue here is confidence. The good news is that confidence is a skill that anyone can learn and this is something I've been studying for over 16 years and helping thousands of people do. If you systematically practice the skill of building confidence, you can all of a sudden do those things; speak up, share your ideas, approach that attractive person.
One tip right now to start building that skill is to fire the toxic coach in your head. Right now, it's making you feel inferior, is when you're around that person, you're literally in your thoughts. There's a stream of you're not this, you're not that, you didn't do that right. The first thing you need to do is start interrupting that.
The one tip right now is start to pay attention to that over today and tomorrow and the next few days, notice when you're doing it and consciously interrupt that pattern. Say, “Hey, I don't want to have that toxic coach anymore. I want a better coach.” Then start to treat yourself with more kindness, more compassion, like you would a good friend, someone you care and love and appreciate in your life. Start doing that and just that one shift alone will start to open up way more confidence to put yourself out there in bigger ways.
[0:25:48.7] MB: Do you want to be more confident, stop suffering from social anxiety and self-doubt? Check out successpodcast.com/confidence. That’s successpodcast.com/confidence to see how Dr. Aziz can help.
[0:26:03.7] MB: Let's break down the second piece of validation, which is offering a justification for the emotion that you've recognized. This is something that I find really interesting, because on the surface it can – it seems a little bit fraught. Sometimes perhaps you don't want to justify their emotion, or you don't necessarily agree with it. Tell me, what does that mean to offer justification for somebody's emotion?
[0:26:28.8] MS: Sure. I'll key in on a on a point that you made there and that's what if I don't agree with them? What if I don't want to back up whatever they're feeling? I'll share two quick experiences. One actually is just more recently. A reader wrote in and she was telling me about how she had a fantastic relationship with her mom most of her life. This woman's an adult now. They still call and talk, or at least used to call and talk for at least an hour every week. She just loved chatting with her mom.
Well about a year ago, her mom was diagnosed with schizophrenia. When she would have an episode, obviously that changed the dynamic now with her daughter, because now she has these conspiracy theories, or these crazy thoughts, or all these things that her daughter doesn't want to justify, doesn't want to say, “Yeah, that's true, mom. Yeah, I agree.”
Obviously, you can imagine that becomes very difficult to have a conversation in that situation. She said that sure enough, their relationship just plummeted. For about a year, she hasn't been able to have any a great conversation with her mom. Her mom used to always ask her about her week, how things were going, all of that and they have a great chat. Well for about a year, her mom hadn't asked her a single question about herself.
She said that she picked up my book and started reading it and she learned about validation and she realized, “Okay, my next phone call with my mom, I'm going to try to just validate what she's feeling. Not necessarily agree, but say, “You know what, mom? I can appreciate – yeah, if those are the thoughts going through your head, that would be terrifying. Of course you're concerned about that.”
She said that when she did that, the relief was audible in her mom's voice. Then she said for the first time in a year, her mom asked her how her week had been. They talked for an hour and she said it was like the good old days, so to speak. She's like, “I finally feel I have my mom back, and it was all because I was able to validate, at least show that I could appreciate the difficulty of what she was facing.” I never said, “Yes. I agree that Trump did that or Obama did this and so on and so forth.” She was able to just say, “Ah, yeah. That's scary.” Just it is.
That justification peace there, again doesn't mean you're agreeing with him them. All you're saying is it makes sense given your background, given what you're facing, given even your chemical imbalance, what have you, because of all those things, it makes sense why you're feeling the way you do. That's different from saying, “I agree with your conclusions.” Does that make sense?
[0:28:50.5] MB: It does make sense, but I want to extrapolate on that a little bit more, or even maybe share some phrasing, or some ways to do that. Because I think it can get very confusing and murky if you don't have a really clear understanding of how to validate something without necessarily supporting it, or agreeing with it.
[0:29:12.4] MS: Sure. Maybe it would be helpful at this stage to outline the four steps, because I think this four-step method is what enables us to just speak freely, give feedback, navigate these difficult conversations. The four steps at a high level are to listen empathically. Then to validate the emotion, then to give feedback or advice when it's appropriate. Then the fourth step is to simply validate again.
Now the order of those four steps is important, because obviously you have to listen and you have to understand the emotion they're feeling, step one. Then step two is when you validate, right? We've talked about that where in this instance, it's not necessarily saying, “You're right. This should change.” What you're saying is, “I can appreciate while you're feeling this way.” Then after you validated, step three is where you can jump in with your side of the story with your perspective, with your recommendations.
It's important to do in that order, because if you don't listen and validate the other person and what they're feeling, they're very likely not going to be open to your side of the story. They're not going to be open to your perspective. That third step is where once you validate it, you can say, “I don't think you're seeing things clearly. Do you mind if I share my side of the story, right? Or have a few thoughts on that. Do you mind if I chime in?”
I'll do an abbreviated, or give you an abbreviated version, Matt, if you've read the book of the best story that really drove this home for me, I manage a team of about 25 people. I had a creative who came into my office and this guy was notorious for taking about two hours of my time. If he was concerned about something, if he was upset about it, we would – I'm not even exaggerating here. Talk for one to two hours.
He came into my office one afternoon and he said, “Hey, Michael. I'm concerned. I want to talk about something.” I thought, “Okay, here we go.” I said, “Sure, come in. Sit down.” He says, “Michael, I'm concerned that you put this guy in charge of this project. I don't think he's qualified for it.” I responded like most people do, like I had historically and I said, “You know what? Don't worry about it. It's going to be okay.”
As you can imagine, he didn't take that very well. He's like, “No, no, no, no, no. Here's why I'm concerned, because da, da, da, da, da.” He starts going and I say, “Hey, you know what? I've got this covered really. Don't worry about it.” He kept coming back and we started down this path of the two-hour argument.
Then I paused and I thought to myself after a few minutes. I thought to myself, “He's not listening to me. No matter what I do I cannot help him see my side of the story.” Then I realized it was because I'm not listening to him. He wasn't feeling I was understanding where he was coming from or appreciating it. I stopped and I paused for a second and I said, “Okay, I'm going to validate him.” I said, “You know what Jace, I actually can appreciate where you're coming from here.” Because I realized in my mind, he didn't have the whole picture. He was operating off of just a few bits of information. I said, “You know what? I appreciate your concern here.”
From your perspective, all you see is this guy who's not very qualified, he's been assigned to this project and you're worried that he's going to destroy the b rand and he leaned back in his chair and he said Yes. that's exactly it Michael and then he just paused and he gave me a chance to speak when I thought, “Ah, we're making progress here.” I'll pause the story for a second and say notice, that I didn't say you're right. I shouldn't put this guy in charge of this project. All I said was, “You know, what? Given the bits of information you have, I can appreciate why you're worried about it.
Once I validated that, he paused and he let me say something else. Then I said, “And, I don't think you have the whole picture here. Do you mind if I fill in the gaps?” He said, “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, please.” I was able to explain to him. I said, “You’re right. This guy's not the most qualified. For this project, it's going to work really well because of point one point two point three.” He said, “Oh, that actually makes a lot of sense.” Okay I'm good with that. He thanked me and stood up and left.
That whole thing took 15 minutes. If I had tried to just say, “You're not right. It's not true. Don't worry, it's going to be fine,” it would have been the two-hour conversation. Because I was able to say, “You know what? From your perspective, I can see where you're coming from here and here's the full picture, here's the truth of the situation.” He felt heard. I was heard. Everything was solved and resolved in about a 15-minute window.
[0:33:30.3] MB: That's a great story. The anecdote that you added in there of this idea that if you ever feel somebody isn't listening to you, perhaps you need to flip the script and ask yourself if you've really been listening to them.
[0:33:44.3] MS: Right. Most the time, that's what's happening.
[0:33:48.2] MB: I also think that was a great phrase template, for lack of a better term to start with something like, I completely understand why you would feel that way, or given that you think X, Y and Z, I totally understand that you would be upset or angry, etc.
[0:34:04.5] MS: Yeah. It's important when you're in the emotionally charged situation, I will say this, I think a lot of people will short-circuit. They'll say, “Okay, I get why you're feeling that way, but that's not true,” right? “Okay, I get that you think that I hurt you, but I didn't mean to.” That short-circuits a little too quickly, right? Instead, let's say for example that my wife is upset because I came home an hour later than I told her I would. I might say, “Oh, gee. Look, I didn't know that you wanted to do this. It wasn't my intent to make you upset. I didn't know that you had dinner ready.” She said, “Well, you should just know, because dinner’s always at 6:00.”
We can go back and forth and I can say, “Well, I didn't mean to do that,” and that could be it. Or I could say, “Ah, I'm sorry. I get it. I mean, you spent an hour on dinner. You had it all set out. You timed it just right to where it was hot right when you thought I'd get home and I didn't show up and I didn't call you. I'm sorry. That would be super frustrating.” Then she goes, “Ah, okay. He at least gets it. He recognizes how much time I put into it. He recognizes that I was planning for it.” Then I can say, “The reason that I went home late is that I was actually out shopping for those drapes that you wanted.” Then she can hopefully go, “Oh, okay. Well, dinner’s cold, but thank you for doing that.” We're both able to let it go.
[0:35:29.3] MB: Yeah. That's another great example. I want to circle back to this, because I think it's a really important thing that you mentioned earlier, this idea of as you called it in the pre-show, going clinical, or trying to almost be too much like a therapist when you're validating somebody, because I think that's something that I personally fall prey to is almost going too clinical with it and really seeming, “Oh, yeah. Tell me how you feel about that,” and it almost feels weird, you know what I mean? Tell me a little bit more about that and how we can have a really organic, natural approach to validating people.
[0:36:11.1] MS: Sure. Sure. Obviously, going back to the earlier definition of validation, if you will, that it identifies an emotion and offers justification. Sometimes for people to – this doesn't come naturally to. They look at that and they go, “Okay.” I need to say, “You know what? I can understand why you feel that way. It feels –” Depending on how you say, it's important in all this to be genuine and to be sincere. I want to point that out here that people have a very great sense of whether or not you're being genuine.
Obviously, you can't use this to manipulate people. You have to feel and appreciate what they're feeling. Also, I do want to point out there, Matt, like you said, that you don't always have to say it makes sense given what you're feeling that you are feeling this way. Sometimes a validating response can be as simple as just sighing. Just going, “Uh.” Because that still satisfies those two points. If they're depressed, if they're distraught, you don't have to say, “Oh, geez. I can tell that you're distraught, because of everything that you're dealing with.” That feels a little weird, right?
If you just sit there and go, “Oh, my gosh,” that still clearly identifies an emotion of despair and it justifies it, because you're suggesting that you feel the same way. Just by making that noise. Just by making a simple comment, one word can go, “Wow,” and just sitting there, that in it of itself is tremendously validating.
[0:37:38.0] MB: I want to reconcile that with something we talked about a minute ago and this idea of if we disagree with them, or perhaps don't agree with the emotion, don't think they – and this could be a – I'm curious for somebody listening, because I feel it's easy to think that's maybe you don't even think they should feel that way. How do you then have an authentic response of, “Oh, wow. That really sucks.” If you think, “It doesn't really suck,” right? Does that make sense?
[0:38:05.2] MS: Yeah, yeah. For me, at least as I think back on my experiences, typically what I try to do is empathize or appreciate how they're feeling. Almost remove – in the situation where I don't think they should feel that way, I tried to remove all of that message in my head of, “Come on, man. Suck it up.” It does take a little bit – there are going to be varying levels of authenticity and that's fine. Because like I said earlier, you won't always be able to fully empathize with every situation. As best as possible, still try to just appreciate and validate what they're feeling.
I think a great example is if you look at little children. If a little four-year-old is running and then he trips and scrapes up his knee and he's crying, some of us our reaction is like, “Come on, man. You're fine. Get up. Brush it off. Move on.” However, some of us will naturally go, “Oh, man. That hurts. Oh, sorry. That sucks.” The kid is like, “Yeah, it hurts.”
We are able to still to varying degrees, empathize with the person. Even if you disagree with how they're feeling, it's still completely authentic to just go, “Ah, that sucks.” Because basically, what it can mean is that sucks for you, right? If they say, “Oh, he tried to hurt me. He tried to do this, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” even if you don't think he did try to hurt her, she still feels like it, and so you can go, “Ah, geez.” That right there is just like, “Geez, you are clearly going through a difficult situation here.” That's all it has to mean. It doesn't have to mean, “Wow, that guy's a jerk.” Does that make sense? Does that answer your question?
[0:39:43.1] MB: Yeah, that’s a really –
[0:39:44.0] MS: It’s an important question.
[0:39:45.2] MB: Yeah, that's a really good way of explaining it and using parenting, or even just the example of a child that's upset. Because it's a really good way to contextualize, oh, I could completely see a three-year-old who's crying and say, “Oh, no. Are you upset? What happened? It looks they have a boo-boo, or whatever.” That's a really good way to translate that into dealing with adults.
Conversely, I'd love to explore a little bit how we can actually use this methodology in parenting as well, because I think that's another realm where this can be really powerful.
[0:40:20.8] MS: Sure. Full disclosure, I don't have children of my own, but I have worked with many who do and I've seen this in play countless times. It's actually really eye-opening, to see how well validation works in children for two main reasons. The first is a lot of people's emotional problems can actually be traced back to very invalidating parents, or very invalidating people in their life. Because we go back, Matt, to you keyed in on earlier, the times when we just invalidate our own emotions, usually that's because we were invalidated a lot as a child, right?
If we are now that little five-year-old boy or little child and we trip and scrape our knee and our mom or our dad says, “You're fine. Don't cry. Stop it.” Well, that's telling us oh, it's bad to feel pain. It's bad to cry. It's bad to be scared, so I'm just going to repress those. As a parent, it's critical to understand validation, because kids don't know how to handle these emotions. Emotions are unruly creatures, right? Even for us adults when we're scared of something – we all have different ways we respond, but very rarely is it calm, collected and cool, right? Where it's all these stories in our head and we don't know what to do.
Well, if it's scary to us as adults, imagine what a five-year-old is doing when suddenly he sees a dog right in front of his face barking at him. The kid has no tools, right? He has no idea. If all he hears is, “Don't be scared. Don't be scared,” then he starts to think, “Well, there's something wrong with me.” If I'm not supposed to be scared, then every time I feel scared, that's bad. Then unfortunately, children usually tick it's bad and they translate it into, “I'm bad. I'm not good enough. I must be the only one that gets scared when a dog is chasing me,” which obviously isn't the case.
Taking validation into parenting, just like you said Matt like, “Oh, man. Oh, that looks like it hurts.” Actually, I was reading a story the other day about a father who was learning this. His mom was going out for a girls’ night with her friends and their little five-year-old boy loved his mom, like most five-year-old boys do and he just started bawling when he saw his mom leave. His dad was trying to say, “Oh, it's fine. It's going to be okay. Don't worry about it.” Of course, that didn't do anything to help the little boy.
Then he shifted his approach to a more validating one and he realized, he missed his mom. He went over and he hugged his little boy and he said, “It's hard when mom goes, isn't it?” The kid through his tears goes, “Yeah.” He's like, “She's so good at reading stories and cuddling and all this stuff. I miss her too. I don't like it whenever she goes.” The little kid goes, “Yeah.” He stops crying. He says, “We can make dinner and she'll be back in an hour. Do you want to go help me and make dinner?” The kid goes, “Okay.” He's able to healing from the trauma of his mom leaving five minutes ago. It is very powerful, whether you're 85 or five. Just helping people manage their emotions and move on.
[0:43:27.1] MB: For somebody who's listening to this conversation, who wants to start implementing validation into their lives, what would be one piece of homework or an action step that you would give them as a starting point to begin to use these tools right away?
[0:43:43.3] MS: I never like feeling I'm promoting myself or my stuff on podcasts. The book obviously is my best attempt at distilling it all into an easy to read, easy to understand approach. It's less than a three-hour read. I also have a lot of free resources on my website that just give you the quick high-level. That website is MichaelSSorensen.com, where you can check out a lot of different thoughts on validation. If still through the interview you're thinking, “Well, I don't quite understand how to implement this, or where to start,” those are both great resources.
Like I said at the very beginning, I think at the end of the day if you're feel – if anything that we've talked about here thus far resonates with you as, “Oh, shoot. I've said that invalidating thing before,” or, “Oh, no. I do just jump into giving advice to people,” those are both very quick changes that you can make right away. That the next time someone comes to you, just resolve to say, “Okay, I am going – if I do nothing else, I'm just not going to give them advice without asking.” You can always say, “Oh, do you want my opinion, or I have some thoughts on that.” Just making those simple changes alone will make a huge difference, if you don't want to dive into the full four-step method.
[0:44:53.6] MB: That's a great action item and something that's really simple to conceptualize, but may be harder to implement in real life.
[0:44:59.1] MS: Yeah, absolutely. Michael, one more time for listeners who want to find you and all of your work online, what is the best place for them to do that?
[0:45:06.5] MS: My website, MichaelSSorensen.com. Obviously, you can find me on LinkedIn, or Instagram, Twitter, all those places. I would love to hear from listeners, if anybody has follow-up questions or thoughts or insights or success stories, please do reach out. It means a lot and it always helps me as I continue to teach it and spread the word.
[0:45:25.9] MB: Well Michael, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all this wisdom and the great strategy of validation.
[0:45:33.5] MS: You bet. Thanks for the opportunity, Matt. Appreciate it.
[0:45:36.0] MB: Thank you so much for listening to the Science of Success. We created this show to help you our listeners, master evidence-based growth. I love hearing from listeners. If you want to reach out, share your story, or just say hi, shoot me an e-mail. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s M-A-T-T@successpodcast.com. I’d love to hear from you and I read and respond to every single listener e-mail.
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