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Business Journal
Offering Encouraging Words
Business Journal

Offering Encouraging Words

by Kathie Sorensen and Steve Crabtree

Like so many elements of human relationships, encouragement is a simple concept with innumerable variations. There are many ways for us to feel encouraged, and just as many ways to encourage those around us.

But whatever form it takes, positive feedback is an essential component of success for most people; without it, even the most hardened stoics tend to lose heart and question the meaning of their actions and goals.

This is second in a series of articles designed to help you emphasize individual strengths at work. In the first article, we focused on a simple exercise to help you work with others to get things done. In this one, we'll focus on encouraging people.

The importance of encouragement is reflected throughout the 12 questions Gallup uses to measure the strength of a workplace, most directly in the questions, "In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?" and "Is there someone at work who encourages my development?" But questions like, "Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?" and "Do I have a best friend at work?" also tap into the need among employees for reliable sources of positivity and support. These latter two questions have strong linkages to a number of positive business outcomes, most notably customer loyalty.

The approaches to encouraging someone else are as varied as the individual strengths used in doing so. A few examples will clarify this idea:

Woo (Winning Others Over). It can be the simple act of smiling, welcoming a stranger, greeting someone warmly by name. Those with this strength will find themselves encouraged by our response to such acts, and will encourage others by initiating them.

Sometimes one person can make the difference. Consider what happened when Karen K. joined an organization as an associate. Karen's leading strength was Woo. On her first day she showed up, eager to win new friends and customers, only to find herself feeling incredibly alone. Her team was not inclined to smiling, friendly greetings, or warmth. They were serious and somber, leaving Karen to wonder about her the appropriateness of her attitude. Fortunately, Karen's manager had the foresight to pull her aside and remind her that she was excited about the difference Karen would make on their team. She encouraged Karen to share her talent to make the workplace much more fun and inviting. Over time, the team warmed to Karen's unique contribution, and more of her colleagues returned her Woo with some of their own.

Positivity. The desire to have fun at work is something most of us can relate to. In some workplaces, however, fun rarely happens. Individuals high in positivity bring the excitement of an "occasion" to ordinary days. When we create an event by celebrating a win, a birthday, or the acquisition of a new customer, we foster a sense of camaraderie that carries us through the rough points.

One enterprising manager high in positivity once arranged a contest that celebrated the number of products sold with a dart game. At the end of the week, she hung balloons with prizes inside on the back wall of the office. Your chances to win increased with your success. The fun was infectious, and so was the sales energy.

Discipline. Structured, routine forms of encouragement are invaluable aspects of great workplaces. Individuals high in discipline are likely to be the ones who establish that structure. How much do you appreciate the person who never forgets a special day or focuses the team on their progress toward the goal?

Keeping track of all the birthdays on the team is a simple thing, but it probably isn't something all of us do well. A manager high in discipline may encourage his or her team members by making each birthday an event to look forward to.

Try applying other strengths to the concept of encouragement. How about the person who knows just the right thing to say at the right time -- does someone's empathy make a difference for you? How about recognition of your increased growth or performance -- isn't it encouraging when people notice? Is there a Developer on your team who motivates others with thoughtful recognition?

There are many, many ways to show you care, and to encourage your colleagues at work. As a manager, you may find it helpful to discuss what your team members find encouraging, and ways they can encourage others. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

Here's an exercise: Encourage each other. These questions should help you think about what you find encouraging, and how you and your team members can help each other build a better place to work.

Take two minutes to answer these questions.

  • What types of encouragement make the most difference for you?
    • Think of a time when you felt encouraged, supported or cared about by this team. Tell us about that time. What happened? Who helped?
    • Think about the best recognition you've ever received. Tell us about it. What happened? Who helped?
  • What strengths do you use in encouraging people? In what ways do you help?
    • Name two strengths you use most often in encouraging others. Tell us how you use them. How do they affect what you find encouraging?
  • What are some things you and your teammates can do to better support one another?
    • What do you think we could do better as a team? How would you contribute?

The next column in our series on how to promote the strengths dialogue in your organization will focus on decision-making. You'll be asked to consider how that critical process takes place in your organization, and how it varies across individuals and teams according to the strengths of each decision-maker.

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