Ever wished you could encourage others the way others have encouraged you? Here are 7 ways to be a better encourager.
I’ve worked with teenagers for a number of years, primarily through an Australian organization known as Scripture Union. Over the years I have been involved in running a number of camps for teenagers where they explore their purpose in life and also have a heck of a load of fun along the way.
We get teens from all sorts of backgrounds come through. I’d have to say though that one of the needs all these teenagers have in common is the need to have someone speak life into them. There is always a marked difference in their lives after they have spent a week in a community that has built them up, believed in them, and encouraged them to be all that they can be.
People will do anything for encouragement. Look at the lengths to which children will try to impress their parents. Even into their adult lives, people may still be ruled by the approval their parents did or didn’t give them. But even the words of friends, relatives, husbands or wives, or our own children, can have a profound and lasting impact on who we are and where we end up.
We all love it when someone goes out of their way to speak life into us. But how do you go about being that person for others?
I am quite aware that I have a gift of encouragement in my life, but it is also something I have worked to develop across my life, and encourage others (there it is again) to do the same. Life and death are in the tongue. You can either speak life into someone’s heart, or you can destroy them with your words. I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you would like to do the former, and do it better.
You can do it. I can do it. Everyone is able to speak life, and it’s a skill we can continue to learn and develop. Here are 7 ways to be a better encourager.
#1: Are you paying attention?
Good encouragement starts with you paying attention. Sure, you may be hanging out with someone. Sure, you may spend a lot of time around them. Maybe you’ve even known them a long time.
But are you watching closely?
Do you know what makes a person tick? What is it that hurts their feelings? What is it that causes their heart to sing? Have you noticed the things they repeatedly bring up in conversation? Have you stopped long enough to see them in action?
It’s very hard to speak well of someone you’re making no effort to understand.
I make it a habit of mine to study people. That gets painted in a negative light nowadays, cause people paint you with the same brush they paint their psycho stalkers, but I think it’s a lost art form that really can enhance all our relationships. Pastor John and Helen Burns always suggest that people stay amazed. Stay amazed by learning more and more about the people in your world. Discover the greatness and the beauty in who they are.
And if you stay amazed, you’re more likely to speak amazed too.
#2: Don’t always just “hit and run”
My dad always used to say that nothing disarms you like a compliment. That’s pretty true. That can be a good and a bad thing.
I would like to assume your encouragement is an act of selflessness and not one of malintent. So let’s talk about how this is a good thing.
Encouragement often touches the deepest parts and feelings of who someone is. It’s not uncommon for me to be encouraging someone one minute, only to have them pour their heart out afterwards about how they’re really going.
That’s a powerful moment. But it would be missed if I didn’t stay and wait after the words were said.
Sometimes there are moments where it isn’t appropriate to linger after you’ve said something. But there may be something more you can speak into if you listen after you speak. Your words may be a catalyst for freedom in someone’s life.
#3: The power of public affirmation
Man, some people post some stupid stuff on social media, huh? I always cringe when I see “Hey buddy, I’m your landlord. You forgot to pay your rent this week. I tried calling but couldn’t get through to you so I’m posting this on your Facebook wall. I know you can see this cause you just liked the video about the homeless guy who made the judges cry. Call me back you moron”.
It’s awkward because everyone can see it. Why would you air your problems with someone in such a public forum?
I’d rather be guilty of airing what’s good about them in a public forum.
There can be real power in acknowledging publicly the good things in someone’s life. One of the great advantages is it gives others a chance to join in. Not just in a social media setting, but any arena when you’re before others.
So many people are waiting for someone else to go first in the realm of encouragement. Why don’t you be the one who does?
#4: Tell people the why and the how, not just the what
The compliment “you’re awesome” is okay, but it really doesn’t really say that much. What people want (and need) to hear is the why and the how behind what you’ve noticed.
Compare these two encouragements to my fictional friend Kate.
“You’re so beautiful Kate, you’re a freaking model, I want to kill you cause you’re so pretty”
“What’s really beautiful about you Kate is how you see people who are far away and bring them in. You look around a room when you come in to make sure everyone is being included, and when you’re with people you do nothing but invest in them. Your selflessness is amazing and I’m grateful I know you”
While there’s a time and place for both of these lines, which one would you remember more if you were Kate?
And if your name is Kate, free hypothetical encouragement to you!
Speak to someone’s character, don’t just stroke their ego. That’s the difference between good and great encouragement.
#5: Look after your own health
If you are ruled internally by insecurity, you are going to be much less likely to notice others, or to celebrate their success.
There is a selflessness in making sure you are a healthy and whole person yourself. Once you’re free from your own problems, you are free to speak life into others in the struggles they face.
#6: The inside matters
Flowing on from the previous point, what is inside of you is what is coming out of you. Have you ever had someone say something “nice” about you, but you could tell just in the way they were saying it they didn’t mean any of it? That’s probably because how they’re feeling inside is coming out in ways they may not even realize.
If you want to come across as a genuine encourager who really cares about people, you need to be a genuine encourager who really cares about people on the inside.
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
#7: Speak to their future
One of my favourite people in history is the early church figure, Barnabas. Barnabas wasn’t even his real name – his name was Joseph. But he was such an encouragement that people gave him the moniker “Barnabas” – son of encouragement.
When the apostle Paul converted to Christianity after killing scores of those in the faith, no one wanted to have anything to do with him (understandably). Rather than leave him rejected, Barnabas decided to take Paul under his wing and speak life into him. After a short time with Barnabas, the apostle Paul went on to change the known world.
The greatest encouragers speak to the futures of people’s lives. They don’t just state matter of fact what is happening right now, although they also speak to where people are at – they see where this person is going, where they have faced their challenges, and instil courage to help them face their fear and grow into who they were meant to be.
Of course, this relies on the first point of really paying attention and studying people. How can you speak to a future you can’t see?
John Maxwell says leaders see more, and leaders see it before. But when you see it, don’t keep it to yourself – let them know.
Bottom line is this – do unto others what you want them to do to you. How you would want someone else to encourage you? You’d probably send them this list and ask them to do all 7 of these things in your life.
And so you and I have an opportunity before us with the people in our worlds to be better encouragers. To speak those thought out words of life that will help see people grow into all they are called to be.
Sorry for the lack of an update in a little while – I’ve just finished the last two assignments in my Graduate Diploma! It was such a great course and it’s a good feeling to have made it through to the end. Definitely overdue for a Shoreline update, coming to you live from my bus trip home.
Over to you – what are some of the traits that you think make a great encourager? What have you found work? How about the things you haven’t liked? Join the conversation below.