Before we get into how to encourage someone, we should first take a look at empathy and the role it plays in encouraging others.
Empathy allows us to internalize what someone is going through. It lets us make a proper judgement call on what to say or do to help someone.
“Empathy is a term we use for the ability to understand other people’s feelings as if we were having them ourselves.” -Empathy vs. Sympathy - Grammarly
More commonly, we refer to this as "putting yourself in someone else's shoes."
Why is empathy important?
Without empathy, most attempts to encourage someone won't be very effective. Without it, we can't properly figure out how someone is feeling and what the best way to encourage them even is.
We don't all react the same way to encouragement so it's important to think about things from the other person's perspective. While most people like to be encouraged, there are many who don't like it at all.
Trying to encourage someone who doesn't even want to be encouraged in the first place just ends up making you sound like that nagging aunt that always tells you to lose weight.
“I hate encouragement.
...Encouragement is something that has always frustrated me.
As a young snotty kid, when my mom would say, "you can do this honey!" I would reply angrily, "I know!!"
...Or when I'm working out with a group and I'm the last one to finish something, and they all feel the need to clap and yell, as if that will inspire me to go faster. AUGH. The. Worst.” -I Hate Encouragement - INFJ1510 | reddit
How to encourage someone
When trying to encourage someone who is down, take these 3 main steps.
- You've got to listen
- You've got to listen some more
- You've got to listen a lot more
When trying to encourage someone, first and foremost, try to understand their situation. As mentioned before, not everyone wants encouragement. Some people just want to rant and vent their frustrations.
By understanding their situation through empathy, we can figure out the best course of action.
Maybe the person's just going through a bad day because their favourite necklace broke. In this case, it's probably just best to let the person figure things out on their own as it's a relatively minor issue that really doesn't even need a pep-talk.
If a person is clearly distressed and acting in a way that a "level-headed" person probably wouldn't, talk to the person, ask them about what's going on and sincerely ask how you can help.
- I would say something like "Hey, I noticed that you look like you've got something going on your mind right now. I know it's a bit out of the blue but if you want to talk, I'm seriously willing to just listen and see if there's any way I can help out at all."
If the person doesn't open up to you, just let them know you're there for them if they need anyone to talk to. Sometimes, the best form of encouragement is just knowing that someone is willing to provide you with some support.
In the case that they did open up to you:
- First thing is to take everything they said into consideration and come up with an actual response that can help them out.
- Don't use an "auto-response" like "you'll get through this, I know you will.". While the sentiment is nice, in reality, it's not very helpful to just hear "I know you can.".
- Second, ask them how you can help. Different situations call for different actions.
- Do they need a really quick "You're smarter than many people I know, you'll figure something out." speech or something more in depth?
- Third, give actual encouraging advice that can help them. If someone is struggling with their finances, offer to have a sit down with them and go over the exact problems if you're financially literate. If not, offer to help them find a solution.
For example: If you find out your friend's mom just passed away earlier this morning, don't go up to them and say "It'll be ok, don't worry about it, it will soon pass." Imagine having someone tell you not to worry about your loved one's death, how would you feel? I'd be pretty pissed off.
A better way to go about the situation would be something like "I just heard about your mom. If you want to talk, I'm here for you."
As with everything, there's a time and a place to try and encourage someone.
If they've just gone through something life changing, you'd probably be better off saving your words of encouragement and just be there for the person until they open up. Chances are, they won't even be in the mood to listen to anyone at that point in time.
Our minds need time to process things so don't rush into trying to make someone feel better.
Don't force your "wise words" down their throat
The last thing any person wants to deal with is someone they feel like is working against them. When people are in a vulnerable place, their line of thought probably isn't the same as it normally is.
It may be tempting to recite 150 quotes on why you should be happy but that's probably just going to ruin their mood even more.
Understand that encouraging someone isn't always easy or even welcomed. It's all about the person you're trying to encourage. If they don't want your encouragement, there's nothing wrong with that.