How To Validate

Cultivating your superpowers.

Drew Stegmaier
Change Becomes You
3 min readNov 7, 2020


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Being able to validate is a superpower. It makes people feel warm and fuzzy inside. “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”-William James. If craving appreciation is the deepest, the foundation beneath that is the craving for acknowledgment. We cannot appreciate something without first acknowledging it.

What is validation?

For our purposes, validation is a form of empathy. It’s not about agreeing. The trick to effective validation is to be able to do it without agreeing. It’s easy to validate something you agree with. You can say things like:

  • Totally!
  • Me too!
  • I get it!
  • Brilliant!

When you disagree, it’s much harder. To validate is to explain to someone why their perspective makes sense, in your own words. Both aspects are crucial. If you simply parrot back, you are a mirror. Mirroring is a great skill by itself, and often helps people feel heard. That doesn’t make them feel understood though. Mirroring doesn’t imply comprehension. It is hearing but isn’t listening.

To explain in your own words is powerful because it demonstrates understanding. It adds the element of why. Instead of just saying “that makes sense,” it explains why it makes sense. For example, I’m not afraid of rollercoasters. Let’s say you are. For me to validate you, I need to explain why your fear of roller coasters makes sense. Perhaps you nearly fell off one as a child. Maybe someone at the amusement park died on a roller coaster you wanted to ride. Maybe you’re afraid of heights. The specific reasons aren’t important.

What’s important is me demonstrating that I get them.

Humans are rational creatures. Rationalizing is a form of validation. Sorry, Dan Ariely, you missed the boat when you said we are Predictably Irrational. We are predictably rational, always. We humans may not behave in ways deemed perfectly rational, but we are able to rationalize everything. Sometimes we rationalize things in advance, but we always rationalize things after the fact. If you’re able to effectively validate, you gain insight into why and how people do what they do.

We are highly predictable and our behavior always makes sense if validation is done properly. Most disagreement stems from an inability to validate. We can’t understand why someone does what they do. And, it doesn’t align with why we do what we do.

So we disconnect.

A tricky precursor to validating are phrases like:

  • I don’t know…
  • I don’t get it….
  • Tell me more…
  • Walk me through…
  • Can you explain…

As listeners, we have a duty to use these phrases to give ourselves empathy. If we can’t understand someone, at a minimum we have to express our own inability to understand. Otherwise, we are pretending, and that isn’t good.

Much of the world’s problems come from people pretending they understand when they don’t, and refusing to acknowledge that. If we can’t tell someone else why their behavior makes sense, chances are that we don’t think it makes sense! We call them things like “crazy, imbecile, whacky, idiot, etc”. Someone is only crazy if we don’t understand them.

Give validating a try.

I promise it’s one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

It results in friendship more often than not.

At a minimum, it is one of our best tools for establishing mutual trust. To boot, it helps us accept loss with dignity rather than bitterness.