What is Encouragement? (Hint: It Isn’t Praise)

Encouragement is the skill of intentionally observing the positive actions of others, followed by expressing our appreciation and sharing what we noticed. Our acts of encouragement build others’ confidence in themselves.

Encouragement Arises Out of Courage

As Alfred Adler, the founder of Individual Psychology, pointed out, the word “encouragement” includes the word “courage.” Encouraging others is the act of bestowing courage upon them. 

There are a good many definitions of “courage.” For illuminating “encouragement,” we could say that it recognizes the ways a person has acted in the face of some difficulty. 

Perhaps the person that you are encouraging took on a task or project at the very edge of their capacity, and the outcome was uncertain. They acted in the face of genuine risk with some real likelihood that they would fail. Despite the danger, they began and persevered. 

Our mission is to notice many more instances of courage, acknowledge them, and express confidence in people that they can continue to mount courage and move toward even more accomplishment despite the uncertainty. 

How May We Best Encourage Others?

Catch Them Doing Something Right: 

  • Minimize catching people doing something you deem wrong. Be more prudent in pointing out deficiencies when it may be better, in terms of your long-term relationship, to let many of them go.
  • Intentionally tune in to the subtle, less apparent aspects of a person’s actions. 
  • Look for the kinds of things they might have experienced, but few people would notice. Notice more than the outcome. 

Also, see their effort, how they overcame challenges, and the resiliency they showed in the face of setbacks.

Appreciate the Behavior, Not the Person:

  • Stop praising a person’s identity. Don’t say identity-oriented words, such as, “You are really smart.” An educational study showed that praising intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance.
  • Instead, appreciate their accomplishment by saying phrases like, “I’m impressed with how you figured that out! What did you do to arrive at such an optimal solution?” 

Finish with an expression of confidence in that person, saying, “I’m confident that your ways of figuring things out will serve you well for future problem-solving.”

Be Generous in Encouraging Others:

  • Think of yourself as a wealthy philanthropist who can easily afford to encourage all who need and deserve it.
  • By frequently practicing the skill of encouragement, it will become more routine and feel less awkward than it initially might feel. 
  • Notice how good you also feel after encouraging others!

We all need encouragement to feel significant, valued, and relaxed in the certainty that we belong. 

Tips for Encouraging Others 

  1. With Your Time: Give minutes of undivided attention to your mate, your kids, your friends, coworkers, customers, and stakeholders.
  2. With Your Attention: When interacting with others, have your cell phone elsewhere and have your ringer and audible notifications turned off. Turn the TV on mute or shut it off.
  3. With Your Presence: Practice 100% engagement, staying in the moment. Give undivided attention while listening to another. Let your body show you are fully there through eye contact, nodding, and smiling. Let your body and face reflect your total presence when with another.

Encouragement is a Skill to be Learned & Mastered

Like any skill, we need to practice encouragement intentionally for it to improve and rise to the level of mastery. Of the many human relationship skills you might want to pursue, encouragement can vastly benefit all those important people in your life. 

And those benefits will be considerably greater than the time and energy you invest in learning to encourage. So I encourage you to take what you read here to heart and master the art of encouragement!

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