The Real Truth About Encouragement
The wrong approach to empathy and encouragement validates poor performance, frustrates leaders, and hinders teams.
Encouragement is better than empathy.
Responsible failure calls for empathy and encouragement. Empathy feels good, but encouragement nudges people to reach higher next time.
Empathy says, “I accept you.” Encouragement says, “I believe in you.”
Too much empathy validates lack of effort and causes self-indulgence. Encouragement says, “You can reach higher.” Show a little empathy. Give lots of encouragement.
Empathy provides a relational foundation for encouragement.
Encouragement isn’t telling someone they did a good job when they fell short. That’s a lie that affirms indifference and mediocrity. Never affirm lackluster performance due to lack of preparation, low effort, or want of commitment.
Encouragement matters when people work hard but fall short.
The real truth about encouragement:
#1. Encouragement is challenge wrapped in affirmation. “I know you’re disappointed in your performance. I know you put in extra hours on this project. Frankly, I believe you can do better, too. Maybe it’s not about more hours.”
#2. Encouragement acknowledges useful behaviors and advantageous attitudes. Empathy sees the pain and acknowledges disappointment. Encouragement builds on small successes.
#3. Encouragement sees fruitful progress and believes there’s more.
#4. Encouragement nudges people toward stretching their strengths. Encouragement energizes people to try again in new ways. Empathy, done poorly, suggests that failure is the best you can do.
It’s not encouragement if people feel satisfied with disappointing performance.
#5. Encouragement is noticing contribution even when performance falls below expectation. Make a ‘contribution list’ that illustrates the benefits you brought to the project or team.
- How might your contributions make a difference in future efforts?
- What strengths enabled your contributions?
- What interactions and relationships escalated your contributions?
- What will you do next time?
Giving encouragement requires belief, courage, insight, and skill.
What does leaderly encouragement look like?
Good post. It is too easy to accidently reward mediocrity when trying to encourage someone.
Thanks David. Absolutely. It’s the misapplication of kindness.
Another great post with excellent insight and suggestions for developing your team members and increasing team success. The Encouragement Wrapped in Affirmation example (” “I know you’re disappointed in your performance. I know you put in extra hours on this project. Frankly, I believe you can do better, too. Maybe it’s not about more hours” ) is a conversation that, in most cases, generates trust and respect between leader and person (I won’t be severely punished or thrown under the bus due to failure), and true encouragement.
Thanks Jackie. I’m so glad you brought trust and respect to this topic. Honestly, too much empathy feels like disrespect to me.
Respect sees and believes in our strengths, even if we feel short. It says, “Get up and try again. I’m with you.”
I struggle with tolerance and acceptability, there comes a time when we need to establish ground rules, as mentioned “if we allow mediocrity to develop” we really are failing ourselves and our clients. We can strengthen the team if we “show what better is” and include the expectations every time, we hope they soon get the picture.
If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, then don’t do it!
Excellent post and great reminder to make the time to follow up, rather than just rushing to the next fire as you tell folks “good job”. I particularly like #4 & 5. Thanks!
Dan, I appreciate what you say with “Encouragement matters when people work hard but fall short”, but many organisations don’t care. How hard people try or work isn’t important, only results matter. Any tricks for doing “encouragement under the radar”?
A good post to ponder on. Sometimes, because of empathy we tend to reward those why may not really be deserving of it. And I believe that it’s always better to encourage people, even challenge them to do better and achieve things not because other empathized with them but because they worked hard for it.
This article has helped me, as have the others in past. Thank you Dan, for this website and the articles which you share with us. They are truly helpful in creating and improving leaders in the society.
I value feedback that allows growth and have had teams that appreciate it as well. Acknowledgement of both contribution and were things can or need to improve gives specific direction that can be acted upon. This is best when self identified in an environment of trust and support.
Telling people only they have done well, when objectives were not met only sets them, and you, up for failure. This article has good advice in a friendly layout. Thank you for sharing.
Love the quote “encouragement energizes people!”
Who gets to judge what is ‘achievement’ or ‘failure’? Some people have to fall far before they rise. Lets just support people. I dont agree with what you say about empathy.