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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships
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Publisher: Autumn Creek Press
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“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!
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.’”
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:
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.
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!
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:
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.
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:
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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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