The Four Steps of Encouragement

You may not be a cheerleader by nature, and that’s okay when you’re in a situation where another person is discouraged. There’s a much better approach that works like magic.

When you see that someone is discouraged, your first instinct might be to give advice or offer a solution. You may even feel that you’re responsible for cheering them up. But these kinds of responses aren’t usually helpful or welcome at a time like this. Instead, if you really want to be an encourager, cover these four steps.

Start with LISTENING. Invite the person to open up by saying something like, “You don’t seem like yourself today. Want to talk about it?” As he expresses his feelings about the situation, don’t criticize or evaluate. Just give your full, undivided attention and check to be sure you understand what he’s trying to say.

In step two, you AFFIRM the person. When things go wrong, people often blame themselves and lose self-confidence. They temporarily lose sight of what they’re capable of. This is your opportunity to remind the person of his personal strengths, the ones that will get him through this challenge. Remind him of obstacles he’s faced before in equally tough situations – and what he did to succeed.

After that, OFFER PERSPECTIVE, the third step. When people are discouraged, they focus on the negatives. To restore a balanced, realistic perspective, acknowledge the negatives, but remind the person that the situation also has advantages, opportunities, and other upsides. Pointing these out is helpful, because the positives are real.

The final step is SUPPORT. You remind the person that he doesn’t have to go it alone. Let him know that you will be there for him, and ask what he needs from you now. This keeps you from making assumptions about the type of support that would be most helpful to this particular individual.

One of my two business partners, Paula, was once out on extended medical leave. I absorbed most of her responsibilities during those two months. At times I found myself getting anxious and discouraged from the additional pressures. My other partner, Denny, works in another state and couldn’t help with most of these day-to-day tasks. But he was my encourager.

One day, when I was feeling really overwhelmed, I told Denny how hard it was to juggle everything. He asked me to talk about what was bothering me. After listening without interruption, he acknowledged that what I was doing was hard. He reminded me of a time when I excelled despite some tough obstacles.

Denny affirmed my personal strengths and reassured me that in the end I’d be able to get everything done. And he made a suggestion: “It’s true that the last eight weeks have been just as hard as you say. But instead of focusing on the past, try shifting your perspective to the future. You know Paula will be back in a week or so. Think about that, and how great that will be.”

And then he reminded me that he was there to support me in any way he could.

That simple conversation helped change my outlook. I felt like a new person when I went home that day. I had my confidence back. And I thought how great it is to have a partner who knows how to encourage.

You can have that same impact on someone you care about – whether it’s a business colleague, an employee or a family member – if you implement these four steps when you sense the person is discouraged.

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