How to help a friend, colleague, or family member through a rough spot.
Encouragement is a basic human need.
It was late in my life when I really learned the importance and the power of encouragement. Once it struck, it struck deep. I began to understand this basic human need, I’ve gotten a little better at it. I’ve also learned it takes time and practice as well as insight and sincerity to really get it right.
It’s easy to be rah-rah. That’s the quick pass at encouragement when you are running around to get stuff done and don’t actually have time to look the person in the face and see what’s up. Or the quick, ‘you can do it’, without recognizing what it really takes for the person to do it.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s not a lot of encouragement going around in some places, so if it’s only a rah-rah, pat on the back, at least that’s something. But people often hunger for more than a pat on the back. Sometimes getting to the finish line is a different type of encouragement than when someone has lost a role they wanted to someone else, or broken up with a boyfriend, or didn’t win the race, or got a lower grade than they hoped (or you as a parent hoped). Here are some things to think about when you have the opportunity to lift someone else through encouragement.
Three things you should do when encouragement is needed.
1) Be Empathetic. If the person is dealing with a loss or perceived failure of some kind, then be empathetic first and recognize that the situation sucks. Maybe they feel bad. You might feel bad with them. But they are going to walk out of your office and face another day, so what are you going to send them off with?
2) Acknowledge their value. After acknowledging the situation, also acknowledge their many great successes, talents, wins, and milestones. Give them a couple specifics. People need to know they are seen and their efforts are noted. If you get a reluctant smile out of them, it’s working! Remind them of their value to you, the family, the organization, or even the world. Remind them that one moment does not define our career or our life or our happiness. We have only to make the choice to move on in a positive way.
3) Give them tools. Tools can be anything, even a specific plan to deal with the situation and move on in a positive way. Restoring confidence is key, but confidence comes as a result of action and experience. Be the person who has confidence in them, when they’ve lost it in themselves, and talk through what their next steps are going to be. They most likely know the next steps so dig it out of them first. Then give them additional ideas. It might be suggesting someone else who can help, a new way to approach the challenge or project, suggesting a class or tutor to strengthen their skills, a book that might inspire them, or even hands on guidance to help them map their course.
If they leave you excited about following up on the next steps, then you have mastered the moment and not only changed someone’s day, but likely their life—at least for the near future. And while there might not be anyone around to give you a pat on that back for that, rest assured in the ripple effect of goodness, and knowing you made the world a little better place for all of us.