Praise vs. Encouragement

Without belief, no change can happen. This is what makes encouraging such an important coaching/leading/parenting skill.

But there is a huge difference between praising and encouraging that is overlooked. As a result in many cases, we end up praising (hint: It’s a bit useless) when what we really intended to do was to encourage.

What is encouraging?

The way I define encouraging is the ability to seed in a person the belief that change is possible by highlighting their contribution, their strengths, their resources and the opportunities that are potentially available to them.

For example, highlighting strengths:
“I want you to look back at the last year and see how much determination you displayed when things got hard and how you didn’t let your fear of rejection stop you from sharing your thoughts. I’m so excited to see what you’ll do next”

Or highlighting contribution:
“Look at the faces of all those people you helped this week. The jobs you helped them find made all the difference for them in these difficult times. Just imagine how many people you can help if you keep this up”

Or highlighting resources and opportunities:
“I know getting laid off sucks. But they gave you 2 months notice. Do you remember the crazy project you did last time you had a month off? Just imagine what you can do in 2 months?!!!”

So what is praising?

Praising, as I look at it, is an expression of admiration for people’s qualities or actions instead of the contribution or value they provide.

For example, praising people qualities:
“You’re really talented”

Or praising their actions:
“I loved how you presented this concept” or “This presentation was awesome”

So what’s the difference?

There are two key differences between encouraging and praising:

1. Evidence-based

Praising isn’t based on evidence. We don’t need to really explain WHY this presentation is great to tell someone it was “great”.

Encouragement, on the other hand, is evidence-based praising. When encouraging we “back up” our claims with concrete references the person can relate to.

2. Applicability

Praising is contextless and short-lived. It provides us, as Joey Simhon mentioned in his comment, with a short burst of Dopamine, sending us to look for more when the rush is over. It is like bursts of energy that never get stored in our confidence battery.

Encouragement, on the other hand, because of it’s highly contextual nature can be “stored/filed” and then retrieved in the next time we find ourselves in need of a confidence boost. Encouragement plays a huge part in filling our confidence battery.

Putting it into action

Encouragement is one of the most impactful tools in the coach’s toolbox but it’s free and anyone can use it. It just takes a bit of practice and active listening that “looks” for people’s contribution, strengths, resources, opportunities so we can back up our praising with evidence and make is actionable and applicable.

Instead of “The presentation was great” we would say “I loved the way you managed to simplify this problem in a way that everyone could align around it. What really worked for me was the visual representations. I could see how the room shifted when they saw them”

Can you notice the difference?

Instead of “You’re really talented” we would say “This painting really touched me. Especially the way you captured the eyes and how I can feel the connection between the two characters.

Or instead of saying “Good job this week!” we would take the time to say “Wow this week was amazing. I wasn’t sure we would pull it off but your clarity during the week really helped us focus and the hack you suggested on Wednesday's brainstorm really made the difference”

This is so much powerful and applicable!

A small trick

When I started coaching I used to write in bold letters on each top corner of my notebook “encourage” to remind myself that as a coach I’m here to seed courage and belief that change is possible.

I no longer need to do that, now that encouraging has become second nature for me, but try that trick and see how great it feels to see the look in the eyes of a person who just received true, evidence-based, empowering encouragement.

Encouraging ourselves

This last paragraph is a note to myself :-)

When was the last time you encouraged yourself?

The best thing about encouragement is that it isn’t meant exclusively for others. But for some reason, I (and most of us) keep forgetting this. It might sound weird but encouraging ourselves, focusing our attention on our contribution, our strengths, our resources and our opportunities does magic. It rewires the brain and helps us battle the voices that keep telling us change isn’t possible.



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