The Irony of Validation


You are in a situation where you feel strongly that someone is about to make a huge mistake.  You don’t want to see disaster strike, so you have to change their mind quickly.  You put together the best argument you can to pursuade them that they are wrong and to convince them to see things your way.  And often, what you get is push back.  They tell you that you don’t understand.  They give you all the reasons why their course of action is the right one.  They respond by putting together the best argument they can to defend their decision.

The problem is that things in these kinds of situations are rarely black and white.  They are complicated and messy.  And there is always some valid reasons for people choosing to act in a particular way – otherwise they wouldn’t have decided to do it!

The irony is, when we validate those reasons, people often will consider other alternatives.  Often, they even point them out themselves.

Take the woman who was planning an aggressive approach to dealing with an injustice she’d witnessed.  I was concerned that this tactic was going to backfire on her and that her actions would only result in her being written off as emotional and crazy.  If someone had expressed this concern, she likely would have argued that no one would listen to her if she didn’t force them.  But when I commented that this was obviously an issue that she felt incredibly passionate about, and that it was something that she was really invested in making sure a positive outcome was achieved, she started to talk about her worries that no one would listen.  She started to share her fears about how things might go wrong, and we ended up having a great conversation about the pros and cons of different strategies.

It’s funny how we tend to characterize these kinds of situations as being people being on opposite sides.  She wanted to do things one way, I thought another was a better way.  And we could have likely argued both sides indefinitely.

But we weren’t on opposite sides.  We both would like to see the issue resolved.  I didn’t want to see her put down and ignored by others; she didn’t want that either.

When we demonstrate to another person that we are on the same side, and that we understand what they want and what’s important to them, they don’t have to argue with us anymore.  It frees us up to discuss the messy, complicated realities of life.  Instead of two brains working against each other, constructing arguments to try to “win”, two brains can work together to come up with the best possible solution.

We worry that if we validate someone’s actions that it will reinforce their point of view.  The irony is that, more often than not, validation is what opens up new possibilities.



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