We all need encouragement. All of us. But what is it and how do we do it, really?
When we think of encouragement, we often think of the light words spoken with a smile and a little lift in our voice; perhaps words that sit at the surface and rarely go deeper, to the place where the need for encouragement really exists.
Encouragement isn’t a warm phrase or simple advice. It’s non-rejecting, understanding, active involvement in someone’s life.
But how do we really encourage someone else?
1) Stop pretending: we all need encouragement, so let’s not pretend we don’t. It’s wise to admit we do and foolish to say we don’t. There are countless ways we protect ourselves and attempt to maintain an image; as though we’ve got it all together and figured out. Some days we think we do, in reality most days we don’t. Embrace the days you don’t and acknowledge you could use some encouragement. Stay real, it’s too much work to be anything other.
2) Be in relationship with others: know people and let them know you. Healthy, relational intimacy is powerful in our lives. Building trust and vulnerability with others creates safety and satisfaction. We need each other and in the context of relationship we can experience the greatest joy life offers. Stay connected, the outcome is rich.
3) Listen through the layers: people are fascinating, so pay attention. We have a lot more going on “below the water level,” more than we usually allow others to see. When someone is showing you who they are, be watching for the next layer to reveal itself. Look a little deeper for what the heart is saying; that’s where the real needs tend to hide and true fears learn to thrive. Stay interested, you’ll learn more.
4) Keep it about who it’s really about: in that moment, it’s them, not you. When we listen to others, it’s so easy to run everything they are saying through a grid of our own personal experiences. When they take a breath, we incorrectly assume that’s the perfect moment to share something similar about our own life. Usually, resisting that urge is better. What may seem helpful can often communicate the opposite. Stay focused, you’re the listener right now.
5) Use words the moment calls for: words have power, for good & evil. The power of a well-timed word can bring hope, inspiration, and meaning to a life or situation. Our primary motivation when speaking to others should be to benefit and build up. Timely words matched with real needs of the moment offer strength, courage, and comfort that impact others’ lives. An encouraging word is one that reaches through the layers and touches the fear underneath. Stay consistent, your heart’s motive to build others up will lead your words.
6) Stay in relationship: life cycles, so your turn is coming. Whatever relationship we’re in–friendship, marriage, sibling, parent, child, co-worker–at any point we can be on one side or the other of encouragement. You might be the one needing it or the one offering it. Whatever role you play in that moment, remember it’s the context of relationship where the greatest growth and change can happen. Stay committed, life is better when we do it together.
What side are you on right now?
Do you need it? Who can you ask for it?
Can you offer it? Who do you know who needs it?