We all know how good it feels when someone offers us words of encouragement, whether that is appreciation, or words of support when the going gets tough. Well chosen words of encouragement can be a boost to our morale, or even a lifeline.
So how can we gift this encouragement to others. How can we develop our ability to encourage.
It is a gentle art. It requires a degree of letting go of your own needs for a while in order to place another person’s needs in the centre of your attention. This is hard to do when you are feeling the pressure of your own needs. It is old wisdom and none the less true that we have to look after ourselves before we can look after others.
Because we have to be very clear that our words of encouragement are truly in the interests of the other person. Sometimes we want to cheer people up because we are uncomfortable with their emotions. It may be that what they really need is someone with them while they cry or vent. We often find it hard to praise others in areas where we feel inadequate or under-appreciated. The better we know, and like ourselves, the better able we are to put our needs to one side in order to encourage others as they need.
Now we need to focus and listen. Being listened to fully and with appreciation, without judgment is rare and wonderful. Without words we give the message that what they have to say is worth listening to. People feel validated. Listening with rapt concentration to what the other person is saying will help them to unbundle their own thinking and then they often find their own way forward.
When you do speak, consider carefully what the other person needs right now, if anything at all. Consider what a person needs along a spectrum of support or challenge, and what will take them one or two steps in the right direction. Sometimes people need to be held and supported just where they are with words of comfort and solace. Sometimes they can be helped along with new ideas or a fresh way of thinking and sometimes they need to be challenged to confront the reality of their situation. Sometimes people need to be told that they are doing fine, just as they are.
When you are really clear that you are acting in the interest of the other person, and you fully tune into their needs you will be able to select the right words, and offer that much needed, but all too rare, gift of encouragement.