The word “encouragement” was adopted from the old French word courage, meaning to “inspire with courage”, coming from the Latin cor, which meant “heart”. Its importance has been recognized in both the ancient western and the ancient eastern civilizations. Aristotle stated: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Likewise, Confucius reminded his students, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
More recently, Dr. Brené Brown, head of qualitative Sociological Research at the University of Texas, has empirically validated that successful people recognize the importance of facing life and moving forward with a “wholehearted” approach which simultaneously allows them to accept their vulnerabilities while focusing on their strengths and to have the “courage to be imperfect”. This allows people to identify more possibilities, connect more effectively with others, accelerate their skill development, engage in difficult tasks and effectively meet life’s challenges. We are all essentially unique creative individuals, live in a social context and have a need to belong and contribute.
Learning the tools of encouragement is fundamental to improving relationships and creating co-operation in all areas of our lives, including our workplace. There is both self-encouragement and encouragement of others. Encouragement is an active process which supports the development of a person’s inner resources and motivation through focused empathic listening and connecting with his or her strengths. Encouragement takes place in the present moment and supports the ability to have perspective and to see the alternatives in problematic situations. As such, it contributes to the active role of recognizing what is possible and meeting the needs of a situation. This enables people to fully engage in their life tasks and contribute positively to their forward movement in life, creating satisfaction in meeting desired goals.
Encouragement is a key concept in promoting and activating “social interest” and “psychological hardiness” or “psychological resilience” in people by building on their strengths and abilities through collaborative problem-solving. Encouragement is not coercion. Nor is it judgment or criticism. Encouragement facilitates the development of a person’s inner resources and courage toward positive movement, transforms negative self-talk and interfering discouraging beliefs (often termed automatic negative thoughts, or a.n.t.s.) and helps develop resilience and self-sufficiency. This helps a person deal with stress, constricted performance and many other personal and workplace problems by putting difficult situations into a more positive framework.
Discouraged people are frequently overly self-critical and very often much too hard on themselves because they feel they cannot meet unattainable standards of perfection. Their private logic, as reflected in their thought-patterns and self-talk, often become overly restricted and shame-based. They tend to disconnect from others and themselves. They become increasingly withdrawn, limiting their radius of activity and engagement with life’s challenges. Discouraged people often lose the ability to effectively take on challenging work assignments and fall short of meeting their goals.
Key encouragement principles allow for the expansion of the typically narrow, self-critical vision of discouraged people by creating connection and trust through providing an atmosphere where people feel safe to express their concerns. These key encouragement principles include listening with empathy, responding appropriately, conveying respect, connecting with equality and collaboration, and reframing the discouraged person’s deeply held self-convictions of shame and hopelessness into a more positive light. This allows for the expansion of perception and an increased awareness of possibilities in problem-solving and navigating life’s challenges. The goal of encouragement, then, is to assist discouraged people to change their belief systems by assisting them in transforming some of their self-imposed attitudinal roadblocks. Some attitudinal roadblocks are “I can’t”, “I won’t”, “I don’t want to” or “That’s impossible.” Through encouragement, this misdirected negative energy can be reframed and a movement toward courageous perspective and self-responsibility generated by reframing to “I can make an effort” or “I will and am making an effort to change.”
Encouragement is different from praise. Encouragement is more sustaining, as it recognizes effort in a realistic and authentic way. Praise is more the expression of a favourable judgment and an expression of approval or delight in a positive outcome. For example, encouragement is what we say to the runner as she or he is running the race. Praise is the cheering we do as they cross the finish line. If one considers a hockey game, encouragement is the coach helping the players navigate the difficulties and challenges of the game and praise is the cheering of the fans as the Canucks score a goal and please the fans.
Many people can think back and recognize how meaningful it was to have authentic encouragement from a mentor. It felt good to have their values honoured and their strengths recognized. The mentor connected to them with compassion and wisdom and facilitated the development of their inner resources, enabling them to succeed in spite of difficult situations. The mentor listened to them with empathy and treated them with compassion and honesty. For many of us, the gift of true encouragement from a mentor has stayed with us and nurtured us in moments of difficulty. This has assisted us in navigating life’s challenges.
At LAPBC we practise key encouragement principles. We honour the sharing of vulnerability, “the courage to be imperfect”, and encourage people to connect with their values, strengths and abilities to live from their highest possible selves.
– Susan Burak