Archive for the ‘Listening Skills’ Category

How to Encourage through Validation

You want to talk about f-f-f-feelings?


Yes, I live in a household full of males, and that’s often the refrain I hear when I want to have a “deeper conversation.” But the truth is, even women don’t often know how to talk about feelings—or more specifically, how to validate them.

So today I want to talk about one of the best ways to encourage someone—through the validation of feelings.

I have to say that validation is a fine art that should be practiced often and with great precision, because it is like a warm embrace to a frozen heart. But first, we must understand the steps to take in our efforts to meet this important human need.

Step One: Understand the magnitude of someone’s spoken feelings

When people disclose personal feelings, realize there are invisible questions that every person thinks:

  • Are my feelings okay?
  • Do you understand them?
  • Do you care about them?
  • Do you accept them?  (And remember, accepting someone’s feelings is not the same as agreeing with them)

So, be sure to communicate a welcoming attitude to your friend from the outset.

Step Two: Acknowledge their feelings

This can be done by simply reflecting back what you’ve just heard the person say. For example: “It sounds like this is a very frustrating (hurtful, confusing, fearful, etc.) experience for you.”

Third Step: Seek Clarification

Most of the time, we don’t understand all the emotions that are brimming under the surface for our friends. It’s easy to skim over this and try to shift the focus back to ourselves, where we feel more comfortable. Resist this tendency and ask for more details about how the person feels. So the next step connects the words in step two with step three . . .

“It sounds like this is a very frustrating (hurtful, confusing, fearful, etc.) experience for you. Is that what you’re feeling right now?”

Remember, don’t rush this part or move on until you’ve gained an assurance that you’ve clearly heard and understood the other person’s feelings.

Fourth Step: Show Empathy

Hopefully, once you’ve fully explored all that your friend is feeling, you will catch a glimpse into the pain or confusion that is your friend’s feeling(s). So at that point, communicate how your friend’s feeling(s) has emotionally moved you.

For example: “It breaks my heart to see you in this pain. Please know that I want to be a safe place for you as you go through this time.”

If you practice this simple method of validation, I can guarantee that you’ll have given your friend an invaluable gift. Emotional validation is the soft and comforting embrace we all want and need when life gets hard. Try it today!

“Like free radicals, feelings wander around the conversation looking for some acknowledgement to hook onto.  They won’t be happy until they get it, and nothing else will do.” –Henry Cloud and John Townsend



In Times of Conflict – How to Meet in the Middle

It’s not easy to meet in the middle. I’ve observed this from the many couples who’ve met with me in my counseling office. But most of all, I’ve experienced it in my own life as I’ve wrestled with my pride.  That’s just it—pride distorts our thinking. It makes us think we are better and, for lack of a better word, “righter” than we really are.

So here’s my prescription for meeting in the middle . . .

Ingredient #1:

Make your goal: listening to understand –

Not talking to convince your partner of your point!

  • This means you ask your partner what he or she feels is the problem, then refrain from adding your point of view.
  • Next, ask at least two clarification questions to gain greater understanding about the context of your problem, your partner’s feelings, and what your partner perceives is your role. (You might feel that by this point you understand enough to give your partner your perspective, but I would urge you to wait just a bit longer.)
  • Now rephrase what you thought your partner said and ask, “Did I get that right?”
  • If you did, then you can ask to share your thoughts on the problem. But if you didn’t, continue to ask questions and rephrase until you both feel that you understand what your partner is trying to say.

Ingredient #2:

Open yourself to see where you may have failed or not understood.

This is where the external communication turns to the internal dialogue. You need to take that critical eye that you’ve used to zero in on your partner’s flaws, and turn it back on yourself! Prayer is necessary at this point, because God illuminates the inner deceptions that we cannot see on our own (Psalm 139:1-4 and 23-24, Jeremiah 17:9-10).

Ingredient #3:

Admit your misconceptions and mistakes as you apologize.

If you take this leap of faith and expose your mistakes and failures (and we all make mistakes!), then you will feel as if a huge weight has been lifted.  Not only that, but the closeness you’ll achieve with your partner will be greater than you ever imagined. Do it consistently, and a deep respect and love will grow between you and your partner, repairing years of damage. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen—not just in my client’s marriages—but also in my own!

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, . . ” James 1:19 (NIV)


2 Kinds of Listening

“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people don’t know the difference.” David Augsburger

Most people think of listening as a tennis match where you volley the conversation ball back and forth, back and forth. I listen to what you have to say, think about how it relates to me, then volley back my response to you.  It all seems well and good.  You may even feel that you are showing how well you relate to what the other person is saying.  That’s important and courteous, right?  It is, sometimes, but sometimes it is the absolute worst thing you can do.

There is another kind of listening that’s needed  at times.  This kind of listening is more like fishing than a good game of tennis.  So let’s call it “Deep Sea Listening.”  With Deep Sea Listening, it is as if you lower you hook (fasten ears and eyes on your friend) into the water and wait.  When you feel the line become taut, you know you must reel in your catch. Just like fishing, if you are in the middle of a catch, you don’t throw in another line.  You patiently and persistently pull whatever is down in the depths up to the surface.  When you Deep Sea Listen, you join hands with God to bring issues, feelings, insights and healing to the surface in the life of your friend.

How do you know when to go Deep Sea Listening?

It is not:

  • When you’re shooting the breeze as you shop with a friend at the mall
  • When you’re trying to connect with your spouse during a commercial break
  • When you’re sharing chit chat over the water cooler at work

It is:

  • When your friend is hurting and in some way let’s you know
  • When your friend is facing a huge decision and turns to you
  • When your friend shares about a personal dream or aspiration
  • When your friend shares a painful or meaningful revelation that has never been shared before (big clue!)
  • When you feel as if your friend has shared a piece of his or her soul with you

How do you Deep Sea Listen?

You stop your own agenda—your own need to relate to what the other person is saying.  It suddenly becomes about the other person and what he or she needs.  You ask questions that help the other person to identify what he or she is feeling.  You refrain from advising or being ahead or above the other person and instead focus on being with.  You avoid fixing the other person’s situation and simply embrace the other’s pain.  You zero in on what might help this person feel heard, acknowledged and validated.

I have found in my own life, that very few people know how or when to Deep Sea Listen.  But when you find someone who knows and does, the experience is nothing short of miraculous.

“Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” Proverbs 18:13 (MSG)