Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to Encourage People - An Illustration

In Meredith Bell's fantastic video about how to encourage people, she talks about four elements of effective encouragement.

  • Listening
  • Affirming
  • Sharing perspective
  • Support

Imagine a boxer who receives a series of hard blows and is brought to his knees. If he gets back up, he still has a good chance of turning the fight around and winning. But will he?

Life can be like that. A setback can be so devastating that a person “loses heart.” The negatives can seem so troubling that a person can lose sight of the positives and become unsure of himself. He could feel that maybe his goal is unrealistic, not worth the effort.

This is discouragement.

But if you don't stick to the four elements, you could unintentionally make matters worse. The classic form of mistaken encouragement is false hope. “Everything is going to be all right.” Has anyone ever said that to you? Even though they’re offered with a kind spirit, statements like this have no basis in reality. People in distress know better and whoever says this kind of thing loses credibility.

Another way people fail to encourage is when they sugar-coat reality by saying, “This isn’t so bad.” Denying an unpleasant truth is a common coping mechanism, but anyone who has been brought to his knees knows that the situation really is bad, and denying the fact doesn’t help.

Also, people sometimes make the mistake of taking a “shape up or ship out” attitude, impatiently urging the person to get tough and get on with it. When this does work, it’s only with particularly resilient individuals who are already encouraging themselves.

To better appreciate what's involved in the four elements, here's an example of encouragement in action:

Jean: “Theo?’

Theo: “Mmm…”

Jean: “You don’t seem your usual bigger-than-life self today.”

Theo: “Smaller-than-life is more like it.”


Jean: “That doesn’t sound good. What’s up?”

Theo: “You know that internet marketing project I’ve been working on for the past three months? You know, for UniString?”

Jean: “Uh-huh.”

Theo: “Well, I got it all done finally and went to demo it for Bob today, and he told me we’re not going ahead with UniString. He said the market has changed this year, and he’s decided to develop something else instead.”

Jean: “So UniString is history.”

Theo: “Right. And all my work on internet marketing is history, too. Along with my life for the past three months.”

Jean: “I bet you worked hard on it.”

Theo: “I did. I really did. And for nothing.”

Jean: “No wonder you’re bummed out. Sorry, dude.”

Theo: “Yeah. I wish I’d known this before. I wish Bob had told me earlier. What a waste. I feel like a total fool.”


Jean: “You’re not a fool!”

Theo: “It was my chance to show what I can do. I’m back at square zero.”

Jean: “No way. You’re our best web guy, and now you’re even better. I bet you learned a lot on the project.”

Theo: “Ha. I guess I did. But for what?”

[Sharing perspective]

Jean: “Well, for starters, I wonder if the system you created can be modified and used for this new thing Bob is talking about.”

Theo: “What do you mean?”

Jean: “I mean if it works for UniString, maybe you can make it work for the next big thing. Is this something that will be sold on the internet?”

Theo: “I don’t know.”

Jean: “Well, maybe it is. Why don’t you find out? Ask the right questions, and you’ll find out whether you can use your system.”

Theo: “You know, that’s a good point. I should do that.”

Jean: “Yes, you should. If it’s a good match, you could have the solution in days, not months. You’ll be Bob’s hero.”

Theo: “Maybe. I’ll check on it. Thanks for the tip.”


Jean: “You bet. Let me know if I can help.”

Theo: “I will.”


Jean: “And Theo….You da man!”

Theo: “Ha! Thanks.”

If you haven't already watched Meredith's video, be sure to check it out. It will encourage you to be encouraging!

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use image purchased from istockphoto)

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