Why Encouragement Fails – What to Do About It

crying dog

He quietly explained, “Tell me my work matters.”

We were in the living room discussing his role in our organization, when he said, “Sometimes I get discouraged.”

I asked, “How would you like me to treat you when you get discouraged?”

He said, “Encourage me.”

I asked for explanation.

Negotiating encouragement:

Avoid treating others the way you want to be treated. If everyone was like you, that strategy would be perfect. Treat others the way they want to be treated.

Negotiation begins when you ask, “How would you like me to treat you when…?”

Invite others to explain what encouragement looks like when:

  1. Projects are succeeding and they’re winning.
  2. Feedback is given, positive or negative.
  3. Projects are failing and they’re struggling, discouraged, or defeated.
  4. “No,” is the answer.
  5. New challenges or opportunities emerge.

Tip: Avoid encouraging only during down times. The way you treat others when things are going well either fuels their fire or drains their vitality.


When I asked, “How can I encourage you?” I affirmed my own ignorance and his individuality.

A kick in the pants encourages some. Others are encouraged by kind words. Personally, I find expressions like, “You can do it,” irritating.

Specific, relevant behaviors, elevate
encouragement above meaningless drivel.

Negotiating proactively:

Rather than asking what encouragement looks like, try a proactive approach.

Declare yourself. “I want to fuel your vitality.”

Explain, “I’m trying to encourage you when I ….”

After describing your behaviors, ask, “Does that encourage you?”

Explore, define, clarify, and adopt.

Overcoming discouragement:

Discouragement includes the possibility that you don’t matter.  No one can make you feel you matter, if you don’t believe it. But, leaders remind others that their work is meaningful.

I’ll encourage my friend by showing him how his work propels our mission and vision forward.

What encourages you?

How do you encourage others?

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