Creating a culture of validation

Validation is a beautiful thing on any day, especially valuable on a rough day or in a rough season.

Anyone not having a rough season?

We often think about this in the context of an argument or disagreement where we would like our points validated, but it’s applicable to many circumstances.

You belong here.

You do good work.

You handled that situation well.

I thought the same thing.

Really? I thought I was the only one.

I see why you reacted that way.

You were OK to react that way.

My [same scenario elsewhere] went the same/ looked the same/ sounded the same.

Me too.

You noticed/ brought up/ managed this important detail that no one else saw.

There have been times when I wasn’t upset or twisted up about a situation—just neutral, really—but someone validated me in it and it felt really good. (And of course it feels good when we’re uncertain.)

Since validation is something offered—not generally asked for and not as valuable when received in response to an ask—what we can do is create a culture** of validating the people around us.

Noticing people’s strengths or contributions or struggles out loud.  

We tend to be “out loud” when we’re unhappy and in our heads when we’re happy. 

How messed up is that? What kind of culture does that create? Where the bulk of what we hear from others, as well as the bulk of what we offer in return, is negative? We’re much more comfortable complaining than complimenting.

What if you noticed out loud things your family does around the house? Or emotional energy they spend on you? (see Mother’s Day bullet below for more about this)

What if you said something to your coworker who is quiet but solid? Or to the coworker who so often says what you’re thinking and aren’t willing to say? 

Or the same cashier or waiter you see every time you go in and they’re always pleasant to interact with? 

Or your friend who always initiates the call? 

Or the barista who knows you and your drink order?

Or your kid’s teacher who has figured out how to reach your kid? (Whether they’re hard to reach or not.)

The list could go on and on. 

The short version ends here. Go create the culture you want to live in. Be vulnerable. Start with people who are easier to approach, and build your chops from there.

**A culture in our little spaces, not the greater culture. Our home. Our office maybe. Our friendships. Places we frequent.

The longer version continues:

This post has been half-written and living in the drafts-for-later file for months. Four coinciding things bring it to you today: 

• It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. I feel like perhaps this week would be better placed during an election period, since we’re needing significant top-down change right now. Regardless, notice your kids’ teachers. A well-crafted note of thanks lives in hearts (and boxes of kept keepsakes) longer than a mug or some chocolate. As a former special area teacher, I also have to plug the teachers who aren’t the homeroom teacher in elementary. Art, music, PE, foreign language, special ed, library, technology, etc.

• Mother’s Day is on Sunday. There’s no shortage of moms doing a lot of work that no one sees. The invisible load is real and exhausting. Read more about that here, here, here, and here. (The first three are linked in the fourth, near the end.) My dudes, if there are kids in your house, she doesn’t want flowers and candy. The second link above starts with a Mother’s Day anecdote. When you know better, do better.

• I recently had some pretty significant struggles validated by someone who could see me. I’ve talked about these struggles with a solid number of other people, including mental health professionals, and while I knew that people “just” weren’t getting it, it’s hard sometimes not to feel crazy. The long form equivalent of “I see you” in that conversation brought me to tears.

• In just a couple of weeks, it will be 15 years since I was admitted to the hospital for what eventually turned out to be a cancer diagnosis. I would like to have been better at noticing out loud during that time, as a handful of medical personnel and a few friends stood out among the rest through that time, but every person who stepped up even once is noteworthy. I hope I at least said thank you.

Does it feel a little uncomfortable and silly and vulnerable to say these things to people? Absolutely. But doesn’t it feel nice to receive them? If no one takes the risk to speak up, no one reaps the rewards of being spoken to. Yes, it’s scary, and yes, you can do it.

I’ve dipped in and out of a murky area mixing validation and complimenting. They’re neither synonyms nor mutually exclusive, and I don’t think you can go wrong with either.

Suck up the discomfort, start with the low-hanging fruit, and do it. There are people you know who are likely to smile and say thank you (or more) and you can both go on feeling a little happier. 

There are people who will give you shit for saying something nice, and unless you’re built to take that easily, I’d recommending waiting on them. When you’ve built up your chops a little, you can move on to more difficult people.

The people who you look at and think, “They don’t need it”? Don’t skip them unless there’s a different reason to skip them. The version of people we see is not necessarily indicative of the full person.

And please, if someone offers you validation (or a compliment)—accept it kindly. Even if there were six hundred other things they didn’t notice. If they are kind and you swipe at them, there’s no chance of them mentioning any of the other six hundred things.

2 thoughts on “Creating a culture of validation”

  1. I needed to read this Heat.
    You have captured and articulate so clearly the emotional dimensions felt by the receiver and the giver of validation. For example, I am pretty much ‘unable’ to accept easily or receive validation without feeling uncomfortable.
    I have to do some focused work on myself to understand this discomfort. Probably sooner than later, I’ll get a professional to pitch in and help me on this. On the other hand, I really and sincerely enjoy telling people I appreciate x or y about what they said or did.
    Inspired by your writing Heat, I am now going to get some cards and hand write something along the lines of ‘I appreciate you because you helped me feel seen or heard when you said or did this’. I’ll send a message to the people who have expressed words or enacted kindness towards me.
    Thank you for reminding me of the importance of acknowledging kindness in others. It is an emotional labor (of love) that I have found usually benefits everyone concerned.


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