Anxiety. Discouragement. Feeling disconnected. Worried about the future. All are common experiences for hundreds of thousands of workers in the U.S.
We are told “we’re all in this together,” “we’ll get through this,” “it will get better soon” – all of which are true (to some degree). But almost all of us have moments when we are emotionally worn out, lose hope and want to give up. Some of us cycle through these periods rather quickly, others linger in the dark space for a while, and some of us have difficulty climbing out of the cave.
Enter: the need for encouragement and support. Yes, we all ultimately are responsible to motivate ourselves and keep going (the message is indelibly etched into my Midwestern boomer brain). But we were also designed to live in community – that’s why we are born into families, to be raised, nurtured and protected. Further, we live in broader communities with friends and neighbors. We are meant to live and grow to some degree of interdependence with others – where there is a give and take in life. We cook for one another; we clean up after one another; we help provide what is needed, not only for ourselves but for those who are part of our daily lives.
At some time, each of us becomes sick or hurt. Or we become physically and/or emotionally tired. Or a tragic event happens in our lives that takes away our resources and our ability to get what we need. Enter: the need for one another.
I’m best known for helping team members learn how to show authentic appreciation to one another through “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.” The funny thing is that appreciation and encouragement are like siblings – they look alike, sound alike, are closely related but aren’t exactly the same, although people sometimes confuse them.
In reality, appreciation and encouragement are similar in three important ways. First, their overall goal is the same: to communicate support for others. Secondly, the actions used are essentially the same. That is, you can use the same action both to show appreciation and to encourage a coworker. Third, the following premise is true – not everyone feels appreciated or encouraged in the same ways. Therefore, a word of encouragement that motivates one person to “keep going” may or may not have the same impact on another team member. This is the underlying principle of the five languages of appreciation.
If encouragement and appreciation appear to be so closely related, are they really different?
Absolutely. The key difference between these ways to support one another is their focus related to time. Appreciation is primarily focused on the past. We communicate appreciation for an action someone has already done, for example, they got the report we needed to us on time. We also appreciate the character people have demonstrated in our working relationship. Character, in this sense, is behavior demonstrated in numerous situations over time. Dependability, honesty, kindness, commitment to excellence, friendliness and cheerfulness all are examples of character qualities we often value in others.
Conversely, the focus of encouragement is on the present and future. We encourage a colleague to persevere on a project even though they have encountered numerous obstacles. We come alongside an employee who is getting discouraged and wants to give up – and we encourage them, maybe just by stopping by and seeing how they are doing, or possibly by bringing them one of their favorite desserts, to keep going.
Remember, however, that neither appreciation nor encouragement are just words. They may include the use of words, but for some (actually, many) of us, words just don’t get it done. We need a little help, or someone stopping by to let us know that we haven’t been forgotten, or (literally) give us a pat on the back.
So, in these times of challenge, when many of us need encouragement from those who are leading us or those in the trenches along with us – take the time to act. Choose to take time to check in on a colleague; reach out and call or videoconference a coworker; offer to do something that will lighten their load a bit. Don’t just think about it. Do something for someone, even if they don’t “look” discouraged! One of the days ahead it will be your turn, and that “cool cup of water” of encouragement will be refreshing and energizing!
Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, speaker, and international leadership trainer who “makes work relationships work”. His company, Appreciation at Work, provides training resources for corporations, medical facilities, schools, non-profits, government agencies, over 700 colleges and universities, and in over 60 countries. He is the coauthor with Dr. Gary Chapman of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, which has sold over 500,000 copies.\