Good relationships are built, but so are bad relationships. Our relationships hold evidence that exposes the truth of what we’ve built.
Social media is the neon sign for social proof of what we’ve built in our relationships. It’s all about connection and validation. We’re wired for community and need our brothers- and sisters-in-arms to help us battle through life. However, our need for validation has the tendency to trample on the thoughts and feelings of others.
I was recently talking with a young woman who expressed she felt invalidated by a mentor. She was venting about her tough day at work when her mentor said, “Oh, that’s my every day. You don’t even know how hard my job is.” The young woman felt a wall of protection rise up because she didn’t feel safe to share anything further. What should have been a safe place to emote was rebutted by the mentor’s own life experiences. You know that feeling: You’re sharing a hard thing you’re dealing with, and rather than listening, the confidant hijacks the conversation, leaving you feeling empty and invalidated.
We’re all guilty of this. If we’re raising hands, I’ve got both of mine up.
As a young adult, I had no idea how to listen to people. I thought in order to be heard, I had to talk fast and talk over other people. This approach didn’t work so well. I didn’t realize how damaging it was to focus on myself in conversations. Invalidating others makes it extremely difficult to connect with them on a heart-to-heart level. Maybe you’re in the same boat as I was. At first you thought the fault was in those around you, but now you realize your lack of relational skills is slowly killing off your friendships.
As James 1:19 reminds us, be quick to listen and slow to speak.
Cultivate the skill of being a good listener.
Enter a conversation with the mindset of actively listening — listening with the intent to hear and reflect back. When a friend says she’s hurting over her breakup, shut down your inner “Dr. Phil” and reflect back with an empathetic statement like, “I’m sorry you’re hurting. That sounds really hard.” If you’re feeling stuck, use the magic words, “Tell me more.” And then close your mouth and listen some more. You’ll be amazed at how the person will connect with you. It’s not because of your amazing advice. It’s because you’re willing to share a space of vulnerability and crawl into the trenches of life with your friend.
Learn how to validate others.
We all need to be seen and heard. Don’t be confused; validating someone is not the same as agreeing with their choices. Validation is hearing their heart and building them up in their struggles. So the next time someone posts on Facebook their irritation about being stuck in traffic, restrain the urge to “one-up” them with how you’re stuck in traffic way more than they are. Instead, validate their struggle and empathize with, “That sounds frustrating.” When you invalidate, you put up walls. When you validate, you allow their heart to open up for more connection.
So it’s up to you. The old adage, life and death is in the power of the tongue, applies to relationships as well. You can choose to talk about yourself and put up walls, or be a good listener and share emotional space. You can choose to invalidate others and feel better about yourself for a minute, or you can look for opportunities to validate and build up those around you.
Take inventory of your relationships, and see which one is working for or against you.