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Bill Abbate

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Who doesn't love to be encouraged? It feels great when your boss encourages you to keep up the good work! There is no better feeling when your spouse encourages you to pursue that lifelong dream. Yet does encouragement only lead to a feeling, or is there more?

Let's take a closer look at encouragement, what it is and is not, and how and when to use it.

Encouragement defined

In its simplest form, encouragement is positive reinforcement of something someone is doing or will do in the future. Encouragement is primarily behavioral-based.

The definition of encouragement from the Oxford Dictionary is:

Encouragement (noun) - the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope. · persuasion to do or to continue something. · the act of trying to stimulate the development of an activity, state, or belief.

Encouragement is a powerful tool you can use to help others achieve more. It positively influences thoughts and actions, improving workplace performance and relationships.

"Encouragement is the oxygen of the soul." George Madison Adams (1837-1920)

What encouragement is not

Encouragement is not flattery, praise, or compliments. Each of these strikes the ego. When you use these, you give feedback on their actions, how they look, or something else external.

Flattery, praise, and compliments may be sincere or insincere and may or may not build a person up. Still, the effect is usually temporary at best. The reality is a person can become attached to receiving them and seek more. They can begin defining who they are by them, leading to unrealistic expectations.

Flattery, praise, and compliments can build a person's dependency on external feedback, undermining their ability to build confidence. Through seeking other people's approval, they may form an approval addiction!

" Encouragement is not flattery or empty praise; it is like verbal sunshine. It costs nothing and warms other people's hearts and inspires them with hope and confidence in their faith." Unknown

What encouragement is

Encouragement affects the inner being, speaking to who you are within. It is far more personal than flattery, praise, or compliments. Encouragement builds a person up, while flattery, praise, or compliments can tear them down.

Encouragement motivates, inspires, and accelerates growth and success in life. It also provides internal validation and externally validates a person as a human being, not an object.

Did you know encouragement can originate from the positive and the negative?

From the negative

You can encourage someone from their previous negative performance. When you recognize someone is improving, encouragement can go far in helping them further improve. If someone lacks confidence, you can bolster their confidence by encouraging them.

From the positive

You can encourage someone to continue the great work they have been doing, which may help them perform even better. You may encourage them to go for that promotion, run that marathon, or a multitude of other things based on their positive performance to date.

"Encouragement helps you to go one step more, become better." Hubert de Givenchy (1927-2018)

How and when to use encouragement

The first thing to do when offering encouragement is to make sure it is sincere and not misguided. While encouragement may include an element of flattery, praise, or compliment, it is much more meaningful than those. Encouragement should never be superficial.

There is a time and a place to offer praise, but it is better saved for the Lord, as only He truly deserves all of our praise.

"We don't deserve praise! The Lord alone deserves all of the praise, because of his love and faithfulness." Psalm 115:1 CEV

Attempting to manipulate someone by using encouragement will most likely backfire. Manipulation is dishonoring, treating the person as an object, not a valued human being.

Encouragement is always uplifting. It goes to the depths of a person's being. They will appreciate the encouragement, and the creative force of it will change them. They will desire to continue, do more, improve, or overcome.

Encouragement provides benefits not only to the one being encouraged but also to the encourager. Admit it. It is a great feeling to be able to encourage someone.

"When you encourage others, you in the process are encouraged because you're making a commitment and difference in that person's life." Zig Ziglar (1926-2012)

Since encouragement is almost always about behavior, let's look at a few behaviors that provide the opportunity to offer encouragement:

  • When you catch a person doing something good, encourage them to continue.
  • When you find someone improving in their work, encourage them to keep improving.
  • When someone is improving a skill, such as writing, laying brick, or playing a musical instrument, encourage them to continue working on it.
  • When you find someone doing exemplary work, encourage them to continue it into the future because of where it may take them.
  • When a person is going through a difficult time, encourage them as is appropriate. Sometimes the encouragement may be sitting with them in silence.
  • When someone is in a bad place or is hurting, encourage them to keep moving forward.
  • When someone you value makes a mistake or fails in some way, encourage them to learn from and overcome it.
  • When someone needs prayer, you can encourage them by praying with or for them. Prayer is one of the most selfless acts you can use to encourage others.

Encouragement focuses on the positive, even when it originates in the negative. It provides a positive influence on those to whom you give it. Use it when you want to empower someone to take action, move forward, and succeed.

Think about all of the people in your life! Do you think they could use some encouragement? Of course they could!

Encourage your spouse, children, family, friends, colleagues, boss, and the many acquaintances you have. Everyone can use some encouragement in their lives. And you will benefit as much as they do when you encourage others from your heart.

"If we're going to bring out the best in people, we, too, need to sow seeds of encouragement." Joel Osteen (1963-present)

Final thoughts

With all of this encouragement, you may ask, "What about me?" Never seek encouragement, as it will most likely result in flattery. Take an honest look at something you are doing and encourage yourself!

"Encourage yourself, believe in yourself, and love yourself. Never doubt who you are." Stephanie Lahart (1982-present)

Let's say you are learning an instrument. The road can be challenging at times, as can most learning. But as you make small advances, encourage yourself not to give up and keep practicing. As you know, practice leads to perfection.

You can encourage yourself by reading encouraging stories, saving encouraging quotes, watching encouraging movies and videos, and listening to encouraging podcasts.

I leave you with some words from a very wise man. Please take them to heart and apply them in your life whenever possible!

"Be an Encourager: When you encourage others, you boost their self-esteem, enhance their self-confidence, make them work harder, lift their spirits and make them successful in their endeavors. Encouragement goes straight to the heart and is always available. Be an encourager. Always." Roy T. Bennett (1929-2014)

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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