Reality Check: What does encouragement look like?

A friend for whom I have very high regard had a scheduling conflict. It looked like she’d be unable to attend a meeting I’d organized. I was disappointed.

Then, she went out of her way to rearrange her schedule so she could attend after all. I was encouraged! Why? Despite the inconvenience for her, she chose to take deliberate action to support my effort.

This sequence got me thinking about encouragement and how to encourage others. We know that encouragement is a helpful habit that builds relationships. But what does encouragement actually look like?

Perhaps your picture of encouragement involves shouting “Rah, rah, you can do it!” Saying encouraging words can certainly be helpful. However, encouragement that takes the form of action is even more valuable.

What actions? Practical actions are encouraging. An old friend regularly dropped off home-cooked meals to people; her encouragement was as nourishing as the food. Helping, no matter how simple, is an encouraging action.

Remember not to offer if you are not prepared to follow through or if you secretly hope your offer won’t be accepted. Suggesting you’ll take care of your friend’s children every day is not helpful unless you are genuinely prepared to do it. If you choose to resent, then better not to offer in the first place.

Because I believe that folks tend to make rational decisions and take appropriate actions when they have good information, I’m a big fan of encouraging by offering information.

As we become “seasoned,” it’s easy to forget how little we knew when we were younger and more foolish. Someone who appears to have “no common sense” could be doing what makes sense to them, as they don’t have the benefit of the knowledge that we so blithely consider common. Providing information can encourage someone along the road to acquiring “common sense.”

When you see someone embarking on an apparently foolhardy venture, is it helpful to encourage them? Not if your encouragement is, “You’ll do great!” with a secret expectation of failure.

When your inexperienced homesteader neighbour invests in her very first chickens, you might ask, “Do you want to hear what I’ve learned about raising chickens in coyote country?”

If she says, “No thanks,” that’s fine; wish her well and move along. But if she wants your practical information, you have an opportunity to encourage, indeed.

Another way of encouraging is to express appreciation and gratitude. Even if you’re not personally affected, you can still express appreciation: “I really appreciate how you look out for the people who need you;” “You make the community a better place;” “You set a great example for the kids.”

If you don’t pay attention to encouragement, it’s easy to overlook when you get it yourself. As I worked through this, I realized that many folks have been encouraging me.

So, Richard; thank you for your encouragement of my initiatives. Jeannie; thank you for your encouragement in all things quality. Caro; thank you for your encouragement of my teaching processes. Travis; thank you for encouraging me to keep writing. Mary; thank you for your long-standing encouragement toward wisdom and understanding. Big smilin’ Dave; thank you for encouraging my unrealized skills. To my course participants; thank you for letting me know I’ve been helpful for your career paths. And to the folks who let me know that my suggestions are helpful; thank you for your encouragement.

One action that’s always encouraging is to ask, “What can I do to help you?” That’s if we follow through with what we learn, of course.

Finally, in some situations, offering a hug may be the most encouraging action that we can possibly take.

Do you receive encouragement? How do you encourage others?

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