Encouragement: The power of life and death is found in your words

When you get right down to it, life is pretty simple. Encouragement builds relationships, companies and countries and discouragement tears them down.

Unfortunately, the world is filled with people eager and ready to spew out words of discouragement. Turn on the television or check out the social media posts and you will see and hear a litany of bad news and dire predictions given by cynics, doubters, and dream-killers.

In contrast, encouragement works wonders. As Tommy Barnett, the co-founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center, an organization dedicated to helping the hungry and the homeless, a place where I volunteer some of my time, knows firsthand the power and importance of encouragement. He says, “Encouragement is more potent than any drug on the market. It imparts something no chemical company can: real, genuine hope.”

In the midst of the COVID crisis and the upcoming elections, all of us need more hope and more encouragement right now. And you can and should be a source of encouragement to the people around you at work, at home, and everywhere else.

Do some of these things, please.

► 1. Give regular praise.

Everyone wants and everyone needs to receive some praise. Indeed, very few people, if any, get too much praise. Perhaps that’s why the number one job complaint continues to be, “You can do a hundred things right and not hear a darn thing about it. You do one thing wrong and they’re right on your back.”

For one week, I challenge you to call a different person each day to share a word of praise. It may be the only praise that person gets that day, or that week, or that year.

Of course, you could easily cop out and tell yourself that the other person already knows they’ve done a good job. That may be true, but the other person needs to know that you know about their great performance.

► 2. Give occasional public recognition.

One of the most powerful ways to encourage someone else is the occasional use of public praise. Recognize and thank an individual … in front of others … for the specific strength or character quality they have demonstrated. Explain how you personally or your organization has benefited from their actions.

Oh sure, the other person might feign embarrassment or insist that such public praise is totally unnecessary. But I’d also wager that they will long remember the encouragement that was given in that moment.

Think of one bit of sincere public recognition you could give in the next month and then do it.

► 3. Encourage someone with possibility thinking.

The book called First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents drove that point home for me. I found it fascinating that each of the mothers continually and unrelentingly encouraged their sons to believe that they could be and would be the President of the United States.

Perhaps on a more limited scale, are you encouraging the dreams, goals and aspirations of your loved ones as well as your customers and coworkers? I hope so. To a large extent, you hold the power of life and death in your words.

“That’s why encouragement is so important.” says Tommy Barnett. “It holds open the possibility that the future may be more exciting, more mind-boggling than we think. It refuses to say no to an idea, even if it seems foolish. Perhaps that crazy idea is just ahead of its time.”

In fact, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the encouragement of my stepmother. When I contemplated leaving my tenured university professorship to start my own business as a speaker, coach, and consultant, everyone told me I was stupid for giving up a for-sure paycheck to enter the uncertain world of being self-employed. But her possibility-thinking encouragement helped me take that step, and hopefully in turn, I’ve been able to encourage thousands of others along the way.

► 4. Encourage others by giving them your time.

I can already hear some of you saying, “I don’t have any more time. How am I supposed to give away more of what I don’t have?”

Start by thinking smaller. I’m not saying you have to give every waking moment to other people at work or at home. You’d never get to the rest of your responsibilities.

But you can start by spending a few minutes each morning checking in on each of your team mates. You can take a moment here and there to ask them some questions, listen to their answers, and listen to their questions.

And instead of thinking in terms of hours and days of time, think in terms of half-hour blocks. In fact, if you tell me what you do with your half hours, I can tell you how productive your life is and how well your career is going.

So forget about what you want to do in the next six to twelve months … temporarily. It’s the half hours that count. The half hour after you get up in the morning. The half hour spent waiting for your meal to arrive at the restaurant, or waiting for the train, or waiting to go to bed.

Everything that is worthwhile has been done in half-hour blocks. As the old poem says:

Little drops of water,

Little grains of sand,

Make the mighty ocean

And the pleasant land.

It’s what you do with your little half-hour blocks that add up to something big.

Half-hours determine your future. In fact, most of the most important things in your life happen in half hours. You get married or buried in a half hour. You get hired or fired in a half hour. And you often make life-changing decisions in half of an hour.

So you’re pressed for time. So is everybody else. But you can be a mighty encourager by using your half-hour blocks of time well.