2 Sides to Encouragement

The Kennedy children visit backstage after a New York City Ballet performance of “Nutcracker”, Jacqueline Kennedy encourages young John to shake hands with Shaun O’Brien who played Herr Drosselmeyer, George Balanchine in rear.

Encouragement takes two sides, it takes a giver, and it takes a receiver. If all goes well the encouragement is effective. If it does not go well there are many different reasons why. Enough for another blog post in the near future.

First thoughts of effective encouragement look like this.

What traits does a giver need for the encouragement to be effective?

A realistic awareness of the receivers situation.

Is the receiver capable of incorporating the encouragement coming their way. That is, we do not encourage new born babies to walk. We are aware that they need time to adjust to the world and let their bodies develop and get stronger.

A belief that the receiver can take on the new challenge whether they are aware or not.

Perhaps a coach recognizes that a player is ready for a new skill. Even if the player is not aware or asking for the challenge, encouragement from a coach can help raise them to the next level of performance.

What traits does the receiver need for effective encouragement?

A relationship of trust with the giver.

Relationship of trust is used in a very broad sense here. A relationship could be close like a family member, or co-worker that has been on your team for years. However, the relationship could be more distant, i.e. when I was cheering on runners in a marathon. Our relationship lasted about 5 seconds as they passed by my cheering space on the curb. A sign or hand motion, when acknowledged by the receiver, can also provide encouragement.

If there is no trust of the giver, there is no action happening!

Plausibility of success

There needs to be hope. After all, encouragement is giving hope. Receiving encouragement to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) when you do not enjoy reading or writing probably won’t go very far. The effectiveness of giving that same encouragement to someone who has always dreamed of publishing a novel will be much more effective.

In the picture above Jackie Kennedy is giving encouragement to her son John. She is aware that he is capable of shaking hands with people. And she believes that John is able to, even if he is not taking the lead.

John is responding to the encouragement because he trusts his mother and he has practiced this many times in the past. He has great plausibility of success. Also he feels the support of her hand on his back, and perhaps soft words of encouragement are accompanying this action.

Is this encouragement effective? Yes, John has successfully and politely shaken the hand of Shaun O’Brien.

Encouragement at the VA in Minneapolis

JeanMy sister Jean, a veteran of the Gulf war, recently started a new job at the VA in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A few days ago she shared the most amazing comment from her supervisor. He did something that is incredibly lacking in the leadership of many companies, especially some would say, in the government. He placed her in a position that matched her personality and skills. He placed her in a position that would benefit the VA and Jean at the same time.

After a layoff at a Fortune 100 company in southern Minnesota, she decided to move to the St. Paul for a fresh start. Those of us close to Jean knew she had come from a management background, and before that she served in the Marines. When she decided to relocate to St. Paul,  it meant looking for a new job. She actually landed a sweet temp job at a Fortune 500 company.  After one week she said she would not go back. Sitting at a desk all day made her crazy, even if it was a job envied by many. I think she probably knew this after about 5 minutes on the first day.

She wanted to serve her fellow military veterans and looked to the VA for a position. She was well qualified for many different positions, but no openings meant no possibility of a job. She finally saw an opening in the Housekeeping department. Even though many thought it was “below her paygrade”, she went through the application process and was offered a position. It was her way in. She would be serving the patients at the VA and thrilled to be doing so.

First gold star of this post goes to Jean. She knew what made her happy, serving the patients at the VA, and she did not get sidetracked by what most of us thought would be a better job.

In the Housekeeping department there are many different cleaning assignments. Some are in the operating room, sanitizing everything for the next procedure. Some are cleaning stairwells. Some are cleaning patient rooms after they have been discharged. After going through several days of “intake”, she received her first assignment which was cleaning in the recovery ward, where patients were recovering from surgery.

When discussing the next rotation her supervisor let her know she would not be training in the OR. Sanitizing operating rooms means that you are not in contact with many people. You go into an empty room, perform your duties and move on to the next one. People who enjoy solitude would love the operating room option.

Here is the good part…. After receiving feedback from many staff and patients that working with Jean was a pleasure, he said,

“With your personality it is important for you and the VA to have you in contact with our patients and staff.”

Wow! What a blessing for my sister and the VA. Her supervisor ROCKS! He did so many things that a great leader would do:

  • He was aware that Jean actually had a personality.
  • He was aware that her personality would be a better fit in a place with people contact.
  • He was aware that the patients experience could be improved from contact with my sister.
  • He was aware that the staff would benefit from a happy co-worker.
  • He was aware that Jean would be more happy interacting with people than empty rooms.
  • He had the authority to make the change and followed through.

In Jim Collins book Good to Great he says,

“leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

My second Gold star goes to the housekeeping supervisor at the VA for getting the cleaning staff on the right seat on the bus.

Jean’s supervisor  nailed it. By making one small assignment change he actually made two great employees even better by putting them in an environment where they shine. A new employee who would rather work alone, is thrilled to be assigned to the OR.

Encouragement Podcasts

In my unquenchable search for all things encouragement I went to the Podcast button on my iphone and searched for podcasts with “encouragement” in the title.

Here is what I found, yes, the list was given with all small letters as seen below.

  • encouragement of the day – a podcast giving Christian encouragement from Arkansas
  • 200 churches podcast: ministry encouragement – a podcast to to encourage pastors of “smaller churches”
  • a minute of encouragement – Curt Goad these episodes are not available right now
  • blog fuel: education and encouragement – for designing and creating an online presence
  • building special families podcast – Jared Buckley for families with special needs children
  • christian quotes  encouragement to – Ryan Maher 5 minute Christian encouragement quotes
  • deb sofield’s encouragement for you – taking the fear out of public speaking and presentation skills
  • elevated living with russ warren – motivation inspiration and encouragement with a Christian touch
  • encouragement – sermonaudio.com – Dr. Steven J. Lawson Christian podcast
  • encouragement for the journey – encouragement with biblical principles

There are 10 podcasts on this list.

What do they have in common?

  • All of them give encouragement. As opposed to defining it, or discussing what it is about.
  • Seven of them are from a Christian perspective.
  • They all offer hope.
  • They all believe success is possible.

I’m still in search of more of the how and why of encouragement. The podcast realm is apparently not my best resource for new information. My search continues.

Do Cookies Encourage You to Buy?

I recently received this catalog from quill.com in my office mail. We do not order from this particular office supply company. However, the cookies were really tempting me. I actually checked my printer to see if the cartridge on sale would fit  my printer. It was interesting to see that this offer encourages new orders with a monetary discount AND yummy cookies.

Would these offers compel you to buy?
Would these offers compel you to buy?

I was a bit disappointed in myself when I realized that the cookies were more tempting than the $20.00 off. Really, that sounds a bit shallow. But it is what it is.

Ultimately, we are sticking with our current office supply company.  I do wonder how many people ordered just to get the cookies.

The First Letter of Your Last Name

Sometimes we encourage others to do something, to make a change, to up the game. We strive to make a change that

Remembering my walk at the end of the diploma line

will make our world better. We appreciate encouragement to get there. Other times we just need to acknowledge the truth and know that it is what it is. [Nature of Encouragement #2: Plausible change is necessary for encouragement to be effective.]

Today I witnessed behavior based on something that, for most of us never changes. It is written in stone, or at least on our birth or marriage certificate. It is our last name, more specifically, the first letter of said name.

Recently kid #4 “graduated” from 8th grade. I say “graduated” because really she is just moving along to 9th grade in the fall. When I was a kid there was just as much pomp and circumstance with the 8th to 9th grade transition as there was for the 3rd to 4th grade transition. I guess we need another occasion to buy balloons and eat cake.

So, there I was sitting in the stands. A friend sitting next to me was there to watch her daughter graduate as well. My friend’s last name starts with A. My last name starts with B. So as they started calling the students names, we were both very attentive, and had our iphones ready to take a picture as the girls received their certificate. Then we relaxed and even (every quietly) chatted just a bit.

After hearing about 350 names, I saw the line of 8th graders coming to an end. (See picture above.) It jolted my memory of being at the end of the line with my fellow V’s. I grew up a Vansteenburg. I mentioned to my friend that those kids were me throughout my school career. There was usually a Vetch or a Zimmerman behind me so I was never the last kid.

We were talking about how the kids at the beginning of the alphabet had to pay attention at the beginning of an activity, and then could relax while the rest of the students took their turn. Those of us at the end of the alphabet didn’t always catch the directions, but could watch the kids in front of us and know exactly what to do by the time it was our turn. I’m not sure what the kids in the middle of alphabet did.

Also there was a geographical aspect to last names in the classroom. Most teachers started assigning seats to students from the front of the classroom to the back, starting with the A’s then B’s and then everyone falling into place. This meant for me as a V that I was usually in the back left corner of the room. Again, the A’s and B’s needed to be a bit more attentive to action in the classroom than the V’s and W’s.

My friend mentioned that she grew up with a B last name, so she was always towards the beginning. She shared that recently she took her motorcycle license test. She was one of the last ones to take her test, and failed. The next time she took the test she made sure she was one of the first ones to test. Her belief is that the waiting made her nervous , she just wasn’t accustomed to waiting, she performed best when she went at the beginning. Just like she had been patterned to do from all her years in school.

Do you notice your attention or ability to wait is connected to your last name?

P.S. Just starting to wonder if there is a there a correlation in behavior between being an oldest, middle, or youngest kid, to your last name being at the beginning, middle, or end of the alphabet. Oldest kids tent to be more attentive, like the A’s and B’s. Youngest kids tend to get away with more, and do a lot of watching the older kids, like the V-Z’s.

Encouragement Defined

My research started with finding a definition of encourage. Here is what I found…


to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Simple Definition

to make (someone) more determined, hopeful, or confident

Full Definition

to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope

Cambridge Free English Dictionary

to help someone to feel confident and able to do something, or to give advice to someone to do something

Oxford Dictionaries

Give support, confidence, or hope to (someone)

I have attempted to make a visual of effective encouragement by creating a Venn diagram.

Venn diagram of Encouragement
Venn diagram of Encouragement

On the left is the receiver, on the right is the giver. The sweet spot in the middle is where encouragement happens. As I created this diagram I realized that I would need to go into the deep end of the pool to find all the layers of encouragement.

For example certain criteria need to be met for both the giver and the receiver to meet in the sweet spot. The giver needs to be aware that a change is possible. The Receiver needs to be capable of the change.  i.e.  we don’t encourage new born babies to walk, it is not possible.

And so it begins…

In The Beginning

I have always enjoyed receiving encouragement. In fact I LOVE it. It inspires me to take things up a notch. I enjoy knowing that someone else thinks I can do better or achieve more. Ralph Waldo Emerson gets in touch with the deepness of encouragement with this quote.

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have also been very encouraging to the people around me. Somehow, from deep within I knew that people are nicer to be around when they have hope. I find dreary people very draining. Some people will always be draining, but sometimes, just noticing something hopeful about a person can make a huge difference in their disposition.

Last summer was the beginning of my exploration. First, I realized my family (husband and 5 kids) was growing up and I had time to think about one topic for more than 2 minutes without being interrupted. Second, on a drive back from dropping kid #1 at school 500 miles from home I had time to think. The rental car radio was not working. I drove in silence and my mind kept repeating “why don’t we encourage each other more?” It seems like this world, with all its ups and downs, would be much easier to navigate if we could help each other along the way.

I started to create a TED talk in my head, “The Lost Art of Encouragment”. This involved several stops at rest stops to write down my thoughts.

encouragement notes
encouragement notes

I started collecting quotes about encouragement, and writing out the who, what, why, where, when and how questions. Then I went a little deeper into my thoughts, came up for a breath, and dove back in to explore the questions further. Recently, I put on some floaties so I could stay in the deep end of my thoughts for a longer period of time. Now, with courage to continue the exploration, I share the beginnings of my findings.

St. Barnabas the Encourager

In my research about encouraging I ran across Barnabas in the book of Acts 4:36 in the Bible. He is not just Barnabas, he is identified as Barnabas “Son of Encouragement”, hailing from Cyprus.  This was intriguing to me, how does one’s name get to be associated with such a great attribute.

For a great summary of how Barnabas lived up to his name as The Encourager check out this post from Journey with Jesus. This is a picture of St. Barnabas with the VirgSaint Barnabas with the Virgin and Child, Sandro Botticelli, 1490.in and Child, Sandro  Bottecelli 1490.

As pointed out in the article from Journey with Jesus:

Barnabas had a reputation for coming alongside people, especially sketchy people, with consolation and comfort. He was a bridge-builder who brought people together. He “had your back” in tough times.

I didn’t know much about Barnabas, but what I like is his ability to be a bridge-builder and not a bridge burner. And he had hope for the “sketchy people”.

Principle #1 To encourage is to bring good.


Compelling Thoughts About Encouragement

So what got me started on the Encouragement Exploration was a tornado of questions that kept popping into my head. I was driving home from dropping kid #1 off at college and the radio in the rental car did not work. That gave me 8 hours with nothing but the sounds in my head. I was so overtaken with the depth yet to be explored about encouragement, that occasionally I had to pull over into a rest stop and jot down some notes.

Here is what was and is still swirling in my head.

Who do I encourage?

  • People working towards a goal.
  • People who need help.
  • People who are in my way.
    • think traffic not moving very quickly
  • People in situations similar to mine
  • People I have never met
    • cheering for people running a marathon
  • People I know and love
  • Inanimate objects
    • computer programs loading slowly

How do I encourage?

  • Responding when asked
  • Being a cheerleader
  • Writing a note
  • Prayer
  • Listening
  • Body language

What is the response to my encouragement?

  • Gratitude
  • Rejection
  • Belief
  • Hope

Why do I give encouragement?

  • I believe in you more than you do right now.
  • I want you to be liberated from your fears.
  • I see hope.
  • I care.

Why don’t I give more encouragement?

  • Do people really want to hear what I have to say?
  • What if I offer encouragement and they fail?
  • I don’t see the needs around me.
  • I get rejected.

The biggest question I have is why don’t we encourage more than we do? So much to be explored.

Exploring Encouragement

Exploring encouragement is a passion of mine. The past year has been an intense study of why, how, when, and what does encouragement really mean? All my life I have been giving it and receiving it. Most of us have. This year I took my exploring to a whole new level.

I have asked many questions about what is and what is not encouragement.

I have drawn ven diagrams and flow charts of true encouragement.

Mostly, I want to know why we don’t do it more often.

And now it is time to share.