This month we have been working on our "encouragement" skills. It's been a great opportunity to hone in our encouragement abilities by "liking" things on Facebook and sending people encouraging words via messages. We've practiced doing things for others, acts of kindness and service. We've talked about prayer and the positive encouragement that it can have on others without them even knowing that you are doing it. We've also spoken about different personalities and how each personality can compliment each other and bring encouragement through their differences.
Today I've been thinking of the topic of positive verses negative encouragement. All of the above have been aspects of positive encouragement. They give the other warm fuzzy feelings, or surges of gratitude. They let others know that they are not alone. They help people feel good about themselves and what they are doing. I know I feel great when people say "Wow, I really like your art". Because my art is an extension of myself, I feel affirmed.
Is there such a thing as negative encouragement? Sounds like an oxymoron to me. Let's start with the definition of encourage. "To instill, impart or call to courage". To encourage is "to give support, confidence or hope" or also "to give advice". We can do this by nurturing, building up, protecting or correcting.
We understand negative encouragement in another way... constructive criticism. When we give someone constructive criticism it is usually given with kind intention to help someone improve an area in their life. We give it because we genuinely care about the other and want the best for them.
Constructive criticism is very helpful in a teacher/student relationship or a mentor relationship. We have entered this relationship with the intent to either learn or teach. It's helpful to have someone who is better than you at a skill, impart their knowledge to you. Sometimes it hurts, but both parties understand that it's part of the relationship.
Parent/ child relationships are also times when constructive criticism can be doled out. We are taught to "train up our children". Sometimes that means positive strokes and other times that means discipline.
In churches we speak of "accountability partners". It is a relationship that people enter into with the understanding that they can basically "judge" each other's actions and hold each person to the behavior which is recommended in scripture. It's usually used as a chance to grow.
Another example is a sponsor relationship in an AA group. One person has come in to say "help me" and the sponsor is there to help.
Here's the trick. Not everyone is receptive to constructive criticism. For some people, what is meant to encourage can be very discouraging. They may shrink back or give up. A person's spirit is a tender thing. We want to build up a soul, not damage it.
Here are some things to keep in mind when using "negative encouragement".
1) Don't be too harsh. Sprinkle it with the positive. Tell people the good that they are doing. Praise both their efforts AND their accomplishments!
2) Your relationship and level of trust with that person sets the stage. If the person receiving the "encouragement" feels valued by you then they are more apt to be receptive to what you have to say.
3) Do not set yourself up as "judge" or "expert" unless they see you in that way. There are too many people appointing themselves as 'guardian' of other people's behavior. I especially see this in churches. We have a 'guidebook' and so we judge other's behavior by the do's and don'ts in a proud fashion. Don't be a pharisee. Stay humble!
3) Make sure that you are doing this for their own good.... really. Make sure you don't have an ulterior motive or want to hurt them in any way.
4) Use questions instead of statements. Have the person look at themselves and evaluate their own behavior with some pointed guidance on your part. The more a person is involved in their changes, the more they will be able to own it.
5) Only use when necessary. Most people grow better in a positive environment. Love covers a multitude of sins. When people feel affirmed, they want to be better people. A child given trust and responsibility, wants to earn their parents respect. If they are beaten down with your "help" they may be crushed and turn in the opposite direction. Nobody wants to be controlled....ever. Being constantly reminded of what they are doing wrong or monitored on their behavior usually has counter-productive results. Pointing out the negative facts about what someone is doing wrong is easier.... but is it productive?
The best way to lead is to "take someone by the hand" and walk with them in all their joys and triumphs. We are all on this road together. Don't use negative encouragement where the positive will work. Always ere on the kind side unless absolutely necessary.
Remember, encouragement is about building up, not tearing down. Build each person up in love... it's good for the soul!