5 Practices to Be a Better Encourager
Father’s Day was this past weekend, and I realized that this was the first one in years that felt happy to me.
Earlier this month marked seven years since I lost my father, my hero.
He was a gentle and sensitive man. He loved music & dancing, parody movies like Airplane, and dreaming BIG for his children. As a father, he was larger than life to me. He always sought to understand me and the “why” behind my actions. I can remember him raising his voice to scold me only twice in my life. Not that I was an angel; he approached reprimands with calm. He chose to ask pointed questions to uncover the root of any poor behavior. (I wish I inherited that gene! 😁)
My daddy was my loudest cheerleader. When I got good grades, he motivated me to make them great. When I ran track, he wanted me to think about training for the Olympics. When I danced, he supported my dreams that included Broadway. I still hear the voice of his encouragement motivating me when I run up against a challenge or limitation. Of all that I learned from my father, I appreciate learning his art of encouraging others the most!
While the art of encouragement was modeled by my daddy, I learned the science of it as an educator…and continue to use it as a business owner.
(Y’all remember that I was an educator for over twenty years, right?)
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the field of education was abuzz with reform and school restructuring literature. Every book, journal article, and research analysis written referenced the need for and/or a path to a needed shift in schools. One major pivot in teaching approach broadened the scope of my understanding and appreciation of encouragement’s power. It was the use of encouragement in the classroom.
Teachers were being taught how to encourage their students in the best teacher training programs, by the mid to late 1990s. This was a departure from the stimulus-response psychology at the root of most teacher training prior to this period. I know, this sounds strange decades later. At the time, it was revolutionary.
Can you really teach someone how to encourage others?
Believe it or not, research revealed that there are specific practices that support one learning how to encourage. I have taken what I learned decades ago and reshaped it for you and your business (and/or personal) journey today. The context may be different but the principles are the same.
CONNECT WITH INTENTION
This seems like an obvious practice but in a “me” focused world, it is a habit that must be rehearsed. Listen actively to the words of the one in need of encouragement. Begin by turning your body toward the speaker. Pay attention to what is being said in its entirety. Refrain from interrupting or clinging to part of what was said only. And don’t be quick to provide solutions. Allow space for the answer to unfold. Finally, reflect what is shared back to the speaker to check that you understand fully. This also gives the speaker an opportunity to hear themselves.
You know…sometimes we don’t listen actively to ourselves...it’s a common phenomenon.
Try not to give cliché responses. Answer with specific commentary. Know the difference between praise and encouragement. Though related, they are not the same. Praise says, “Good job!” Encouragement says, “Your speech was well researched.” Find distinct aspects of the subject matter to highlight positively.
CUT OUT DISCOURAGEMENT
Duh! You may be thinking. This may seem obvious. Unfortunately, many practices that folks employ, intending to encourage, have the opposite effect. These discouraging “encouragements” include setting unreasonable standards without considering the state the speaker is in; focusing on mistakes as a motivator; making pessimistic analyses; and comparing the speaker to others.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of one of these paradoxical strategies? It motivates some people. Many athletes are spurred on to do better by coaches using this approach. But would they admit to being encouraged? True encouragement leaves the encouraged feeling good about who they are (internal), not just in what they can do or earn (external).
This speaks to the culture of your environment. After working the practices on your own, model it for others. Lead by example. Build a community that values encouragement. Show people how to use direct intentional communication to foster an encouraging space. Create a community where folks feel free to take risks without fear of harsh judgement or pat praise.
This can be done in a work place, family, or friendship circle.
CLEAR UP CONFLICT
Providing encouragement only when things are going well is situational and won’t take root as a value. However, the authentic unpacking of conflict is encouraging. Honesty, even if the truths are difficult, is securing. It communicates that the relationship can be trusted to withstand the challenging times as well as the easier ones. Don’t shy away from directly dealing with differences. Keep dialogue respectful and patiently parse through issues.
I recognize that these practices come somewhat easy for me. I’m a born Encourager. I love to draw out the bright side whenever I can. It's just how I’m wired. Yet, I too must consciously exercise these habits. Any natural inclination taken for granted can fall short of reaching its full potential.
So, I do the work.
How about you? Do you need encouragement today? Then find someone to encourage. Put these practices in play. That’s the secret behind encouragement’s power, its reciprocity. Give and it will be given to you.
Find someone to encourage. Practice the art and science of encouragement to support them. Let the power of encouragement change you and your world today.
Until next time…