• Jim Donaher

Err on the Side of Encouragement



For most of my life, I have been somewhat, oh, let's say reticent. That sounds better than aloof, standoffish, awkward, cold, uncaring or uninterested in the lives and moods of other people. I justified this with the old, 'we've all got issues, I got mine, and he ain't saying nothin' to me.' So when I saw someone struggling, I would do the comfortable thing - for me - which was to steer clear and leave them alone.

I have come to better understand that we are put here to love one another. 'Love' is a broadly used word that describes affection in a wide range of contexts. For today though, let's just say love = 'be kind to,' that is, to offer some sort of support and encouragement.

Support, which often requires resources like time, money or some other scarce commodity, is not always feasible. We may not have, for example, cash to share with a homeless person. Or time to sit and listen to someone who is having trouble. Or the physicality to help someone with their grocery bags. There are compelling reasons to withhold that kind of material support. Or we think so, anyway.

But what about spiritual support? Also known as 'encouragement' that is, to enhance ones courage. Courage to keep trying, to finish what they started, to not give up.

The thing is, encouragement can and should be done by everyone. There are some great features to encouragement, aside from the obvious buoying of another person's spirits, including:

  • It is free - no cost whatsoever

  • It need not take any time, to speak of

  • It is 100% accepted by the recipient

  • It can be verbal, or non-verbal (sometimes a smile is better than a word).

  • It requires no expertise, beyond recognizing the struggle of another person.

What excuses do you make for withholding an encouraging word? You may not be sure, so let me tell you mine:

'I don't know what the problem is. How can I help?'

If you encounter a stranger, or even someone you know, you don't know what they are struggling with. For instance, if you see someone beating on an ATM machine, it may be the machine, but it also may be that they have no money in their account or that their spouse is terminally ill. You. Don't. Know.

You can see that it's something, but you don't know what. What can you do to encourage this person? Probably just an understanding smile, or telling them you're sorry they are having trouble. Or letting them know their day will have to get better from here.

Did you solve their problem? No, but you did your very small, 'random' bit to nudge their mind toward a positive. There are things we aren't conscious of that make us feel certain ways. Your smile, your empathy and your effort are appreciated, whether you or the other person know it or not.

'I am just a worker bee. How can I encourage the boss without being a kiss-ass? And who am I to encourage my teammates? That's the boss's job.'

We all work for somebody. And all of those somebodies are human. They are doing the best they can, but are struggling with their own stuff. As long as you are sincere in your encouragement, and clear with what you are praising, you can say it, or email it. No matter your 'rank' in the organization.

Most people in American business are like nomads in the desert, looking for water. It's rare, and so is praise and encouragement. If you like the way someone ran a meeting, tell them. It doesn't matter who they are, if it's sincere, just say, 'You did a fine job keeping that meeting on track. I wish everyone ran meetings the way you do.' Or something similar. Don't wait around for the reaction, make it casual, but sincere. If they stop you and want to chat, do it, but drive-by compliments are good too!

'People will wonder what I am up to or think I'm playing a game.'

You have to realize that for the most part, no one cares what you're up to. They are in their own little world, worrying about themselves, not you.

To the extent that people notice you at all, it's at some vague level, not the whole you. You are 'that guy from the call center' or 'the security guard at the front desk.' Finding ways to be upbeat, kind and encouraging, when done habitually, gets you a new label. You will be 'the guy or girl who always says something nice.' Not a bad label, is it?

Every day, whether we choose to tally it or not, we have wins and losses. Additionally, our relationships and interactions are positive, neutral or negative. If you prioritize encouragement, as a task you undertake concurrent with everything else, you can pile up a lot of easy wins to balance off losses and postponements in other areas.

Because of the scarcity of encouragement and positivism, it is actually easy to carve out a niche for yourself as the chief encouragement person in your office, home, church or street gang. All you need to do is pay attention, find the good and say or do something to recognize it.

Actions to get you into the pool:

  • Think of a person, at work, at home, or somewhere else, who does something you admire. Tell 'em.

  • Set a 'thank you' goal each day - Saying 'thank you' is not just polite, it is encouraging. The habit sets your mind on gratitude, which is healthy for you too. Thank everyone - for all things great and small. That kind of thing is contagious.

  • Encourage yourself - God made you in his image, and that means you are amazing. Take a minute to praise yourself. You are doing great!

God bless you. Have a wonderful day.


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