Acknowledge and Validate. The two most basic skills of coaching as I know it.
To acknowledge means to let the other person know you’ve heard what he or she has said by paraphrasing it or sharing the meaning you got from it.
To validate means to let the other person know that what he or she is feeling is normal, reasonable, and totally understandable given his or her experiences or circumstances.
Acknowledging and validating transcend opinions of right and wrong. Your opinion on the other person’s experience or feelings doesn’t matter. It only matters that you’ve heard what’s been said and understand that it’s true for them. Even if, especially if, you have a totally different perspective of the situation.
This is the surest way I know to close the distance between two people. It’s how people I’ve never met feel safe to tell me the worst things they think and feel about themselves 15 minutes into our first conversation.
But that’s assuming you want to close the distance.
I’m sure you can think of a time you were sad or frustrated or angry and you were dismissed or told it wasn’t a big deal or that you were being unreasonable or to buck up (Dad, I’m looking at you on that one!). It’s rubbing salt in the wound. And even if that person loves you immensely, it still causes a feeling of separation, of disconnect, of not being cared for.
So practice acknowledging and validating. Seriously. Don’t start with those closest to you because they’re the hardest. (Trust me on this!) Earn some wins first. Start with strangers or people you barely know.