5-Ways NOT to Encourage Others
Most of us have been through our share of struggles, from unbearable grief to sheer desperation. When we survive the loss of a loved one, a broken marriage, financial ruin, betrayal, bullying, a physical ailment that makes it tough just to get through the day, or any other issue we have faced in our life, we have lessons we’ve learned along the way. The same is true for all of our success in business, finance, homeownership and the joys & victories we’ve had in our personal lives. The older we get, the wealth of experience automatically increases through the ups and downs of our own journey in life. Even though we may have advice to share or believe we know how others feel because we have been through it, it takes insight to know when and how to encourage others. Communication is a 2-way street, so let’s make sure we are doing our part to convey encouragement and speak so that others can hear us.
Check this list of 5 ways our encouragement can miss it’s intended purpose. I have found these to be the biggest areas of misunderstanding as I have tried help those around me. It takes insight to know when someone is open to hearing advice, ready to listen to your own story, and when to simply listen.
1. GIVE UNSOLICITED ADVICE
Telling people what to do isn’t the same as encouragement. Advice and encouragement have two different definitions. Here is how the Cambridge Dictionary defines these two words.
Advice= an opinion that someone offers you about what you should do or how you should act in a particular situation
Encourage = to help someone to feel confident and able to do something
It is important to know the difference between these two words and learn when giving advice becomes encouragement. Just knowing someone is having trouble is not an invitation to give advice. Giving unwanted advice exasperates people.
2. SAY YOU KNOW EXACTLY HOW THEY FEEL
We are not experts as it pertains to someone else’s life.
The same is true when someone finds out we are going through something they have been through before, even if it isn’t the exact same situation, it warrants hearing all about what their experience was. At times this is helpful when it is a “how-to” situation, such as an issue that arises with homeownership or another area you need to solve. But when it comes to trauma, hurt or grief, the well-meaning stories are usually unwanted and has the opposite emotional effect than was intended. It comes across as disrespectful and presumptuous.
3. MAKE IT ALL ABOUT YOU
We have all had that friend who interjects to tell us a story about how they have been through what we are currently experiencing. It really doesn’t matter how well-meaning they are, when they take over the conversation to tell us the gory details of their own experience, it usually doesn’t help us at all. Most of the time they do not have a point except to share a time they were going though something even remotely similar. It can be more discouraging to hear their experience, especially when they don’t have anything positive or hopeful to share.
Telling our story can be like a trip down memory lane with the listener held captive. Well-meaning or not, this comes across as being rude.
4. TALK ABOUT THE EXACT AMOUNT OF ANYTHING… money, weight, years.
Really anything you say that can be measured and compared to what they have. Here are just a couple examples of how including these when encouraging someone can take encouragement down the wrong path.
“I was gaining so much weight that I just couldn’t get into my size X clothes anymore, so I had to go buy new clothes. I tried on the size XX and size XXX. Thankfully the XXX was way too big! Whew! That was a close one, I always said I would never be that size.” The people who heard this ranged in sizes, from much larger to much smaller than this person was. The problem with sharing things like this is when we forget the state of those we are talking with. In this example, both the one who is larger and the one who is smaller are distracted from this person’s intended point. The one who is larger may be offended and someone smaller may judge.
Even when we want to share how good God is by going into every detail of how He answered our prayer and blessed us with an amazing purchase, the point can be lost in the details of what it cost. How do you think it is received if we say to someone struggling to make ends meet, “I just got an amazing deal! These two end tables were originally $400, but when I checked out they were marked down to just over $200 each.” It sounds trivial to someone who only has enough money to pay their bills, and what we want to share about God’s goodness becomes inconsequential. This story is best shared by saying you got 50% off, instead of the price you paid. Everyone can relate to getting a discount without bringing up exact amount we spent.
Be careful when to use exact amounts of anything to encourage people. Anything that can be measured and compared to what they have or do not have may bring the undesired result of judgment and offense.
5. TELL THEM WHAT TO DO
We intend to help make things easier for others by sharing how or what they can do in their situation, but it does not mean they will hear it that way. Have you ever had someone say you didn’t support them when they went through a dark time in their life, when you know you went out of your way trying to say and do things to encourage them? Telling someone what to do is about wanting to share tips with those we have a relationship with, when we have listened to them talk about their trouble with us. This doesn’t feel like unsolicited advice because we’ve spent time together and have established some type of relationship. That makes this the hardest to gauge. But even in these situations, many people have trouble accepting help communicated this way. Once the conversation shifts to sharing ideas of things they could do, they may feel defensive, like they’re being judged for what they are doing wrong. It may be best to ask if they would like to hear your ideas of what they could do before telling them anything, otherwise it may come across as harsh and judgmental.
It takes wisdom to know how to communicate encouragement to others. A set method will not work since everyone is at a different place with their own unique obstacles to overcome. Sometimes the only encouragement needed is to show value by listening and giving emotional support, offering help in practical ways, and by letting them know you are in their corner cheering them on!
Blessings, Tami Gaupp