During a recent work evaluation, I was surprised to receive the feedback that my coworkers do not find me especially encouraging. This hit me hard, because I’ve always considered encouragement one of my strengths, and led me to some deep thinking about what encouragement really is. I realized I was good at “encouraging” people to do something my way, or see something from my point of view, but weak at offering praise that was not attached to an outcome I wanted to see.
What I learned by that insight is that it’s easy to confuse encouragement with manipulation. Even without bad intentions, I may have sometimes given the impression that people needed to do something to please me, as opposed to being appreciated for who they are, today, without any improvement.
Once I recognized this trait in myself in a professional setting, I could see the effects of it everywhere else, and nowhere more glaringly than in my parenting. How often did my kids hear something like “You’re getting better at that!” or “I know you can do it!”
These comments, while not demoralizing, are very different from “Your hard work today was amazing!” or “I love the enthusiasm you brought to the table!” There’s no qualifier in these statements, and they don’t imply that I’d like them to “do even better.”
I wish I could wrap this up by telling you that I’m now a modern-day Dale Carnegie, known by everyone around me for being incredibly encouraging, but the truth is, I still have a long way to go. Letting go of expectations, whether for my family, my coworkers or anyone else, is not easy. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize that I have expectations, and I also worry that if I don’t seem to have expectations, they will make less effort.
But last week, as I signed out of my work’s internal messaging system, I told one of my coworkers, “I appreciate your enthusiasm, it inspires me to do my best!” And she responded with a bunch of happy emojis.
Then I texted each of my kids with something I liked about them that day, as they were. And I texted my husband too. They were a little surprised, but I hope they get used to it!