I Hear You - Critical summary review - Michael S. Sorensen

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I Hear You - critical summary review

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Sex & Relationships

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 0999104004

Publisher: Autumn Creek Press

Critical summary review

“Being listened to and heard is one of the greatest desires of the human heart. And those who learn to listen are the most loved and respected.” That’s a quote by American psychotherapist Richard Carlson, taken from his classic little book “Don't Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff.” In “I Hear You” – yet another little book that’s quickly becoming a classic – personal development coach Michael S. Sorensen goes over the nuts and bolts of listening and explains how you can show someone you really hear them. So, get ready to discover the power of validation and empathy along with a simple, four-step validation technique that will help you better connect with the other person!

Validation 101

There’s a reason why, colloquially, the phrase “I hear you” doesn’t just mean “I perceive the sounds that are coming out of your mouth,” but, rather, “I understand you” or even, “I get where you’re coming from.” In other words, when one says that they want to be heard or listened to, they are not just expecting nods and silence – they are also expecting empathy, recognition and connection. But that begs the question: how do you show someone you’re not just hearing them, but also getting them? How do you tell them – with words or without them – that you understand the weight of their situation and that they can count on you?

“We want (and need) more than just a listening ear,” writes Sorensen. “As humans, we need to feel heard and understood. We need to feel accepted and appreciated. Good listeners, therefore, do more than just listen – they validate.” Validation is “the secret sauce, the magic ingredient” of listening. It is “as versatile as it is valuable.” It calms fears and frustrations; it boosts excitement; it quickly resolves arguments. It makes the difference between mere association and a fulfilling relationship, between casual attachment and deep connection. 

In essence, validation consists of two main components: identification of an emotion, and justification for feeling that emotion. Both parts are tricky, but the second part is trickier, because – unless you’re careful – you can come across as patronizing or even mechanical in your attempt to justify the other person’s feelings. Worse still, you can give the impression of not caring. In fact, most people inadvertently do just that by minimizing or dismissing the emotions and opinions of the other or the overall weight of the situation they are in. “Validation is nonjudgmental,” explains Sorensen. “It allows the other person to feel whatever they’re feeling without labeling it as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”

Common misconceptions

As simple as the concept of validation may seem, Sorensen feels it’s “often underutilized or misapplied due to a few common misunderstandings.” The three most pervasive are:

  1. Validation is only for negative emotions. That’s not true: you can (and should) validate all types of emotions. In fact, studies have shown that sharing in other people’s excitement and happiness drastically improves connection and satisfaction – almost as much as the validation of difficult emotions.
  2. You can’t validate if you don’t agree. Validation doesn’t mean being in agreement with the other, but being able to understand their point of view. Put simply, when you validate someone, you’re not just declaring “you’re right” (though you could be) but saying, “I get why you feel that way.” “The key point here,” explains Sorensen, “is that if you were in that person’s shoes, having only the information, background, and perception that they do, you would likely feel the same way.”
  3. Validation is simply repeating what the other person says. Though rephrasing the other person’s words can be an important tool of validation, it will make you sound inauthentic and mechanical unless it’s backed up with an understanding of the other person’s emotions and the “why” behind them. Validation goes deeper than language and reason.

Contrary to common belief, validation also goes deeper than sympathy. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it is sympathy that makes validation sound false and insincere. If you are at the bottom of a deep, dark hole, you don’t need someone telling you they are sorry or even offering you a rope. You need someone to climb down the hole and say, “I know what it’s like. But you’re not alone.” That’s empathy. And it’s where validation starts.

Empathy tips

When you sympathize with someone, you feel for them because of their pain. You stand on the outside of a situation and you’re peering in. You say, for example, “I’m sorry you’re frustrated” or, “I hope you’ll figure it out.” On the other hand, when you empathize, you choose to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You’re not just looking at a situation from the outside, but you choose to step into it to be able to feel the pain with the other. You say, “Ah, that’s so frustrating!” or, “I know it’s tough, but know that I’m with you in this.” 

Empathy is where validation stems from. Unsurprisingly, since you can validate someone’s feelings only after you’ve connected with them to the extent that you are able to understand what and why they are feeling it. To develop empathy for the other, look inside yourself first. Learn to identify your own emotions and then try to stop judging yourself for feeling them. The more accepting you are of your own emotions, the easier it will be to validate the emotions of others. In many ways – and don’t forget that – they are just like you.

So, recognize your partner, your friend or your family member as a human being with unique fears, hopes, and pains. Get more curious about their background. Ask yourself not merely, “What if someone had done that to me?” but also, “Could past issues be influencing his or her reactions?” A pro tip: imagine the other person as a young, vulnerable child. It immediately makes it easier to feel and validate their emotion. 

But how (do you) to do that? Through Sorensen’s Four-Step Validation Method. “A tried-and-true approach to giving validation and feedback in nearly any situation,” the method is simple by design and can be applied to absolutely “everything from quick, lighthearted exchanges to lengthy, emotionally charged conversations.” So, let’s go over each of the four steps and provide you with some much-needed direction and insight!

Step No. 1: Listen empathically

Validation begins with listening because before you can justify someone else’s feelings, you first have to be able to identify them. This type of listening is called empathic listening and is built around the following key principles:

  • Give your full attention. Our age is the age of distraction and absence. Validation is all about presence and focus. If you can’t give your undivided attention to the other for any reason whatsoever, let them know and ask to talk at a later time. Otherwise, you’re just disrespecting their pain.
  • Invite them to open up. Most people don’t want to be a nuisance to others, so rather than opening up immediately about their problems, they merely hint that they want to talk about something. Make them comfortable. Ask them a simple question such as, “What’s going on?” or, “You seem upset. What’s up?” That’s the best way to tell them that you are willing to listen without prying. Be inviting, not forceful.
  • Be observant. Up to 70% of our communication is nonverbal. So, if you want to understand the other, don’t just pay close attention to their words, but also to their tone of voice and body language.
  • Match their energy. Meeting a smile with a half-smile or a smirk is a sure recipe for discontentment and argument. “If the other person is happy or excited,” advises Sorensen, “then smile, laugh, and share in the thrill. If they are discouraged or sad, then be respectful and speak in a softer, more compassionate manner.”
  • Offer micro-validation. Micro-validation is “a short comment or response that affirms the validity of the other person’s emotions and opinions.” Some examples include: “Really?”, “No way!”, “That’s so exciting!” and, “Uh, yeah, I’d be angry too.” The goal is to be supportive without interrupting or taking over the conversation. That’s why you need to keep your comments short.
  • Don’t try to fix it. No matter how well-intentioned, statements such as “Don’t worry about what they think,” “It could be worse” or, “Here’s what you need to do…” invalidate the other person’s experience. Using them to achieve the opposite is, in the words of Sorensen, “by far, the most common mistake people make.” Refrain from offering advice, feedback, or assurance until Step 3.

Step No. 2: Validate the emotion

Once the other person is done sharing – or, say, you sense that the pause they’ve left in their talk is waiting for your input – it’s time to validate their emotions and experiences by acknowledging and justifying them. Here’s how.

  • Validate, even if you disagree. “Not only is it possible to validate someone you disagree with, it’s advantageous to do so,” says Sorensen. In other words, you don’t need to tell your coworker it’s not fair that they got passed up for promotion to show them that you are there for them. It’s quite enough to say, “I get why you’re upset. You’ve been here a long time. It’d be tough for me to see someone else getting that promotion if I were in your place!”
  • Ask. If you’re not sure what the other person is feeling – just ask. You can use one of two approaches. You can either keep it casual with questions such as, “Ugh! How’d that make you feel?” or put your guessing shoes on and throw out a few emotions in a question form: “So, are you feeling frustrated? Confused? Angry?” Questions such as this should get you the clarity you need to validate the right emotion.
  • If you can relate, consider letting them know. However, try to use phrases such as, “I had a similar experience” instead of, “I know exactly how you feel.” Especially in cases with difficult emotions. Also, be sure to turn the focus back to them after sharing your experience.
  • If you can’t relate, let them know. Validation is all about authenticity. So, if you can’t relate to what the other person is going through, don’t even try to lie to them. You’ll come out as insincere and hypocritical. Instead, just acknowledge the fact that you can’t understand how they feel by saying you can only imagine how painful or exciting it must be.
  • Tell the truth. Resist the urge to tell the other person they did the right thing when you think they didn’t. Instead, acknowledge the truth and validate their emotions. The two are very different things. “Being honest, yet tactful, in your validation is easier said than done, but it’s a worthy pursuit and pays dividends down the line,” writes Sorensen.

Step No. 3: Offer advice or encouragement

Mahatma Gandhi once said that even fundamental truths will be rejected – together with their messenger – unless they are given with love and understanding. That’s what Step No. 3 of Sorensen’s Four-Step Validation Method is all about – offering advice or encouragement. However, be aware that this step is entirely optional. Sometimes advice may be unnecessary or inappropriate, and sometimes to validate the other person’s emotions you just need to share in their excitement and joy. So, don’t force anything. Remember: validation is healing in and of itself. Here are a few more tips when it comes to giving feedback:

  • Avoid giving unsolicited advice. Just because someone is sharing an experience with you doesn’t mean they are looking for feedback. To determine whether they are open to receiving advice, either ask straightforwardly what they are expecting from you (e.g., “How can I help?”), or ask them for permission to give advice (e.g., “I have a few thoughts on the matter. May I share them?”).
  • If you do give feedback, lead with a validating statement. To reiterate the fact that you’ve connected with the other person’s experience, validate them once again before giving advice. In other words, preface your advice by saying, “Here’s what I think you should do” with, “I totally get why you would feel that way.”
  • Watch out for “buts.” Nobody likes to hear a “but” after having their emotion validated: that simple word effectively dismisses any phrase it follows. Fortunately, there’s a simple trick to improve the delivery of your feedback: just use “and” instead. Doing so will help you avoid inadvertently negating your validation, comments or advice.
  • Lead with “I” instead of “You.” Switch from, “You’re wrong” to, “I disagree” and from, “This is your fault” to, “I feel like this may actually be your fault.” As Sorensen explains, “Using ‘I’ underscores the fact that you are sharing your perspective or opinion. It also lessens the likelihood that the recipient will become defensive.”
  • Avoid absolutes. Never say “never.” Never say “always” or “constantly” as well. “Often” or “rarely” are not just better and softer alternatives, they are also far more accurate, nine times out of 10.

Step No. 4: Validate the emotion again

Back in 1990, world-renowned researcher of marriages and families John Gottman invited 130 newlywed couples to spend a day at his “Love Lab,” where they were asked to do ordinary, daily activities together. He noticed that throughout the day partners would constantly make “small, seemingly insignificant requests for connection from each other.” He called these requests “bids” and he realized that meeting them was, by far, the most important factor in the success of a marriage. The couples who were still together six years after the experiment concluded had responded to the bids of the other – “by turning toward the bidder” – 87% of the time; the couples who divorced had “turn-toward bids” just 33% of the time.

That’s why Sorensen’s Four-Step Validation Method includes not one, but two steps of validation, the first one following the listening part, and the second one coming after the advice-encouragement session to conclude the entire process. This is how you do it.

  • Revalidate the emotion. Regardless of whether you’ve given advice or not, close the conversation on “a positive, emotionally uplifting note” with a repeat of an earlier validation. Say, for example, “That really is a tough, tough situation. And, for what it’s worth, I’m impressed with how you’re handling it.”
  • Validate the vulnerability. As Brené Brown has repeatedly made known, it takes a lot of courage and daring to be vulnerable before others, to show your less-than-perfect side to the world. Respect that. If someone opens up to you, give your gratitude in return. Say, “It must have been hard for you to come to me about this, so thank you very much. I sincerely appreciate your openness. Know that I think the world of you.”

“I realize that dedicating an entire step to ‘validating again’ may seem like a stretch, but this repetition (and the order in which it happens) is important,” concludes Sorensen. “Whether the other person has shared a positive or a negative experience, it’s good practice to wrap the conversation up with one final validating comment. Doing so reminds the other person that, despite everything that may have been said, you still hear and understand them.”

Final notes

Michael S. Sorensen, by his own admission, is neither a psychologist nor has he counseled celebrities or big-shot CEOs. If we are to judge by “I Hear You,” he is nevertheless a better observer of human nature than many of the experts with professional letters after their name.

We warmly recommend this brief, actionable book to anyone who wants to improve their relationships and enhance their ability to support others during difficult times.

12min tip

To validate, acknowledge emotions and offer justification for feeling them. Though this simple practice won’t fix every problem in your relationships, it will probably improve them more than any other.

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Who wrote the book?

Michael S. Sorensen is a marketing executive by trade and an avid researcher by choice. An “everyday-person-turned-thought-leader” by his own description, he made a name for himself... (Read more)

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