What does encouragement look like?
Think way back and picture the poster of Rosie the Riveter. That’s one picture of encouragement—Rosie’s determined face under the slogan, “We can do it!” with her sleeves rolled up and her muscles flexed.
The goal then was to inspire an entire population to dig deep; to bring all their grit and persistence to contribute to the war effort. That is, to win.
An inspirational poster may be helpful for the mass-marketing of encouragement. But when it comes to smaller-scale encouragement—when you’re just trying to help someone out—what do you actually do?
Sam’s friend Richard is discouraged. Richard has decided that it’s time to become more responsible and do a better job of supporting his family. However, his results so far have been mediocre. Sam believes Richard is sincere, and wants to help. What to do? Here are a few suggestions.
- Sam could pay attention. Stop, and give Richard undivided attention. Listen; really listen, to what Richard is saying. There’s no need to interrupt, to offer suggestions, or to leap in with a “fix.” Just listen.
Giving someone your full attention is a huge gesture of respect, support, and yes, encouragement.
- Sam can help Richard clarify what he wants, exactly. Is it a job at a specific company? Is it a specific level of income? Is it to feel respected in a workplace? Is it to feel respected at home, by his family? Is there a qualification that Richard perceives would make the difference?
As long as Richard has only a vague sense of what he wants, it’ll be hard for him to figure out what steps will take him there. Sam can help Richard work out a clearer picture of what “being more responsible” and “better supporting his family” looks like.
- Sam can help Richard assess what he’s been doing so far to make the change he says he wants. Has he been visiting businesses? Sending out resumes? Researching training programs? Scanning employment websites? Getting distracted by funny beagle videos?
The key question is, “How has all that been working for you?”
- While Richard is feeling discouraged, it’s easy to forget his successes. He may perceive that nothing he’s doing or has ever done has been successful. Yet we have all had some level of success in our lives. Here is where the memory of a friend—Sam’s memory—can be really helpful. Sam’s been there and can remind Richard of difficulties he has already overcome.
- Finally, Sam can work with Richard to make a plan, even if it’s just one small step to try.
If you want to encourage a friend, it really helps if you genuinely want your friend to succeed. Genuine care and interest is powerful encouragement.
Rosie’s poster slogan is, “We can do it.” We’re in this together. If your friend is uncertain about their capabilities or likelihood of success, knowing that they are not alone can make a huge positive difference.
What if you have doubts and misgivings about what your friend is attempting to do? Unless you are asked specifically for ideas on, “What can possibly go wrong?” then it may be just as well to keep those thoughts to yourself.
There will be plenty of opportunities for your friend to hear discouraging words, possibly from other “friends” or quite possibly originating from within their own head. Discouraging words are easy to come by. Does it really help to add to them?
Thoughtful actions, even small gestures, also help. When Sam knows that Richard is spending the evening struggling with designing an improved resume, dropping by with a coffee can help.
What actions do you find encouraging? What do you do to encourage others?