I think it’s important for everyone to learn how to properly encourage someone at some point in their life. Learning how to encourage others teaches us several life skills that we can all benefit from. And, we make the people we encourage feel better about themselves.
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 and make a proper judgement call on what we can say, or do, to help them.
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. This is because without it, we can’t properly figure out how someone is feeling and what the best encouragement for 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 first. 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 neighbour who keeps inviting you over for dinner.
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, I’ve really only found 3 steps that work.
- You’ve got to listen
- You’ve got to listen some more
- You’ve got to listen a lot more
When you try to encourage someone, first and foremost, you have to understand their situation. As I mentioned before, not everyone wants encouragement and not everyone appreciates it. 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 and doesn’t want to talk to anyone more than they have to. 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 see if 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 to me, don’t be ashamed to give me a shout. I’m seriously willing to just listen to you 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’s there 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 finances, offer to have a sit down with them and go over the exact problems(s) if you think you’re financially literate enough. If not, offer to help them figure out a solution.
I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure your words and actions are suitable for the occasion and topic.
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.”. Again, it doesn’t have to be complex. It’s enough to let people know that you’re willing to help and give some advice when needed.
As with everything, there’s a time and a place to try and encourage someone.
If they’ve just gone through something huge and life changing, you’d probably be better off saving your words of encouragement and just be there for the person. 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 livelier and more encouraged. Just because someone is down doesn’t mean you automatically have to work on making them feel better right then and there.
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.
This can mean that they start to feel like you’re being too pushy when you try to encourage them. Even if your intentions are good, it can easily to the point that it gets on their nerves and they feel like you’re pressuring them.
I know it can be tempting to recite 150 quotes on why you should be happy to them but that’s probably just going to ruin their mood even more.
Understand that encouraging someone isn’t about you. It’s all about the person you’re trying to encourage. If they don’t want your encouragement, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Don’t force yourself onto them just because you think they aren’t acting right and so it’s your responsibility to make them feel better.
Unless they’re you’re dependant, it’s not your responsibility at all. Again, encouragement is only encouragement if it’s welcomed.