Effective Encouragement

We can all use a little encouragement from time to time. But why is it that some attempts at encouragement fall flat while others really hit the spot? Think about the times when you’ve needed a lift and someone has said or done something that has been particularly effective. What is it about those sorts of interactions that set them apart?

I’ve been reflecting on this recently because I’d like to be more effective at encouraging others. I reckon that if I can figure what works for me, I’ve got a head start into understanding how I might become a better encourager. I’ve come up with a couple of lists which I’ll share here as a discussion starter. 

My first list is of the elements that I think are crucial, almost essential to any example of effective encouragement. My second list is of things that might not be essential but I observe are very commonly present in occasions when I’ve felt especially encouraged.

Crucial Elements

  • Sincerity – comes from pure motives, not flattery or manipulation
  • Veracity – recognised to have a basis in truth, not someone making stuff up in order to be nice
  • Authority – comes from a respected source, someone who has experience and/or credentials that add weight to the encouragement 
  • Relevance – connects with something that is deeply valued; encouragement over things you don’t really care about has little effect
  • Receptivity – it has to be received by the person; timing matters here because there are more receptive and less receptive moments

Strengthening Elements

  • Specific – not vague or general; giving real-life examples is helpful
  • Tangible – when the encouragement is captured in some well-crafted words written down, or symbolised in a carefully chosen gift
  • Spiritual – connected back to God through prayer or a passage of scripture or a prophetic word
  • Astute – provides fresh insight or perspective or makes a new connection
  • Consequential – when the encourager shows that the person being encouraged makes a significant difference by who they are or what they have done 

In my musing about how encouragement works I re-read an old book by Larry Crabb and Dan Allender called Encouragement: The Unexpected Power of Building Others Up. One particularly valuable insight I gained there was about how to target encouragement accurately. They point out that encouragement is needed at a point of discouragement, and discouragement occurs because courage is undermined by some sort of fear. If you can identify the fear that is unsettling a person, you can better direct your encouragement. I’ve found that helpful, when I notice that someone is feeling down, to think more carefully about what is giving rise to those feelings and direct my encouragement to the cause.

What do you think? Are the elements you would add to either of the lists above, or do you have further insights as to how effective encouragement works?

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