“Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13
Words have power. We can use words to break people down, or we can use words to build people up. Dr. Maya Angelou says that words have the power to creep into almost everything around us.
The words we speak have power over ourselves and the people we speak them to. The art of encouragement however is learning how to use words to edify and to build people up to their fullest potential.
Encouragement itself is a multi-faceted thing. The idea of encouragement can sound like a small thing. It can sound like something subtle and cute. Sometimes encouraging someone is a quick one-liner, but true encouragement is something different entirely. True encouragement can have a profound impact on the trajectory of someone else’s life.
Encouragement is very different to motivation and it’s far more compelling. When you’re encouraging someone, you’re literally instilling courage. It’s huge and it’s difficult and it’s powerful.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 echoes the verse from Hebrews and says:
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
Ruben Nieves, a former coach from Stanford University and current director of the Positive Coaching Alliance, has this to say about encouragement:
“We all have an emotional tank. It works like the petrol tank of a car. There has to be way more tank-filling than tank-draining, otherwise the car simply stops functioning.”
People are the same.
How To Encourage
You motivate people generally but you must encourage them specifically, because this holds the person accountable. So how do we practically do this?
Encouragement has three parts:
- Pointing out their potential i.e. What it is you believe they could do.
- Acknowledging something negative that’s stopping them from achieving that potential.
- Giving them practical guidance on how to fulfill their potential.
All of this is why true encouragement is so much more meaningful than motivation.
As point two says, encouragement often involves the acknowledgement of a negative thing, something that the person being encouraged doesn’t necessarily know they’re not doing. They might think they’re doing just fine, that they’re being appropriately effective and ambitious, but, to be encouraging, you must believe something to be true of this person. Something difficult, but something good. You must believe that if the person really tried hard, he or she could do great things.
As the person receiving the encouragement, being told you’re not trying hard enough is not easy to hear, so most importantly, the key to encouragement is tact.
Tact means, considering the right place, the right time and the above all, the right words to use to make sure that the other person feels encouraged rather than condemned.
Proverbs 27:17 says:
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Motivation says “You can do it, I believe in you”, but it doesn’t tell you what it is it believes you can do, or any guidance on how to get there.
You can motivate anyone, but you can only encourage someone you actually believe in.
Here’s a personal example. A few years ago, my boss took me aside and said:
“Nick, I think you have the potential to be a fantastic leader and to have people working under you (pointing out the potential), but in order to do that, I think we need to improve upon your organization and administrative skills (acknowledging the negative thing). Let’s find a system like Trello or Asana, or whatever works for you that will help you to improve in this area.” (Practical guidance into how to achieve the goal.)
If done properly not only have you helped someone achieve a goal, you’ve helped someone achieve a goal that he or she didn’t previously have. That’s not merely motivational, that’s magical.
- Encouragement requires specificity.
- You don’t encourage someone merely to succeed. (That’s motivation.) You encourage someone to succeed at a specific task or job.
- You don’t encourage someone to simply “do something.” You encourage that person to do something you think they are prepared to do but that may never have occurred to them.
Behind every successful person is someone who said: “Hey, you should try this. I think you’d be good at it. And here’s how you should try.”
That last part is important because encouragement without guidance isn’t encouragement. It’s discouragement. Essentially you’d just be saying “Here’s what you’re not doing! Bye!”
When you encourage, you don’t just change how people work. You change the way they perceive their own abilities. Which changes their careers. Which changes their lives. And that’s a really big deal.
I’d like to leave you with this quote:
Encouragement is not flattery or empty praise; it is like verbal sunshine. It costs nothing and it warms other people’s hearts and inspires them with hope and confidence.