Give the gift of encouragement

The following is a speech that I gave at my Toastmasters club today.

There are plenty of gifts that we can give this holiday season, but one of the most important is the gift of encouragement. When someone is down, when someone has suffered a great loss, or when someone has just lost faith, the support you can give that person can be the greatest gift they can receive. A few words can turn around a person’s entire life.

Words of encouragement must have three attributes.

1. Your encouragement must be sincere. Your words must be honest and come from your heart. Half-hearted words, no matter how supportive you intend to be, can be more devastating than saying nothing or even giving more criticism. The other person will feel you’re being dishonest, or that you’re “damning with faint praise.”

When you speak, you must stop anything else you’re doing and give the other person your focused attention. Look at that person directly in his or her eyes. Don’t worry about speaking style. Let the words flow freely and honestly from you. When people suffer, they have a hard time trusting. You must prove to the other person that he or she can believe you.

2. Your encouragement must be specific. When someone feels down, he or she has a hard time believing anything can be good about his or her. You need to give specific examples of the good things that person did. Reminders of past accomplishments can help shift that person’s focus from more recent failures.

This is why we start with pointing out the positive in a Toastmasters evaluation. People are well aware of all the ways they messed up. We want to build upon the things they did well and motivate them to speak again.

Focusing on specific accomplishments also builds your credibility. If you give vague statements of how good a person is, he or she won’t believe you.

3. Your encouragement must be pure. When someone else is suffering, it is no time to mix messages. It is not time for the “You’re a good person, but…” type of talk. When a person is down, that person can only hear your criticism, even if you package it with lots of positive and supporting words.

When you are giving encouragement, focus only on the positives and on building that person’s self-confidence. Wait until that person has recovered and is ready to listen to your feedback before you give it.

When you learn to give encouragement the right way, you can give someone hope – the greatest gift anyone can receive.