What to Do When You Are Discouraged

I have written a lot about how to show authentic appreciation to others.  But sometimes we need to be encouraged.  Work is hard, draining, and sometimes the challenges we face just wear us down.  We can get discouraged and would value someone saying something nice or encouraging to us.

While it may feel “weird” to some, the best way to get some encouragement is to let people know that you are discouraged.   Waiting for others to notice — or “moping around” with a long face — typically isn’t a successful strategy.

Some people are not real self aware, and may not know what is encouraging to them (especially at work), so, the question to ask is:

“When you are discouraged, what is something that someone can do or say that would encourage you?” (or, “What has encouraged you in the past?”)

Here are some  factors to consider when you are seeking encouragement:

The Nature of the Relationship

If you are fairly close to a colleague, I think it is reasonable to say something like:

“Just wanted to let you know, I’m pretty discouraged and not feeling too valued for what I do. I don’t want to be a whiner, and it is not your responsibility to make me feel better, but if you have any input or suggestions, I’m open.”

This at least opens the door for the other person to give you some feedback (hopefully, positive and supportive) OR for them to follow-up and ask you more about the situation – they may be totally surprised at your comment.

Family & Friends

If you are new to the group, not especially close to anyone, or if there has been tension with your supervisor, I would not recommend (#1) above.

Rather, I think it may be better to look for support and encouragement from friends and family – letting them know that you are pretty discouraged at work, and any support / encouragement they can give you would be appreciated.

At the same time, trying to start communicating appreciation to others at work may be a good step, as well – to start modeling the type of communication you’d like from others.  No guarantees but it may “prime the pump” for others to start being more supportive.

Encouragement & Appreciation

It’s important to note that encouragement and appreciation are quite similar (appreciation tends to focus on the past, while encouragement is about the present and future).  Thus, to find out for yourself how you like to be shown appreciation and are encouraged, an online assessment tool is available that identifies the primary language of appreciation of individuals, along with the specific actions that are most important to them. (The results can be compiled to create a group profile and list of valued actions for a team who works together.)

Finally, if you feel overwhelmed by the negativity in your work environment, I written two resources that should be helpful.  The first, Rising Above a Toxic Workplace, gives practical suggestions on how to survive an unhealthy workplace.  The other is my recently released book, The Vibrant Workplace, which gives tips and resources for helping your workplace become more positive and supportive.

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Doris Patterson

Thanks for the information. But people need to understand and know that sometimes it is the healthy within that produces a clear and healthy outward. I’ve learned, “It’s not so much of what happens to/and around you, but it’s how you choose to react to it.”

Paul White

Doris, I totally agree. I think we often attribute too much of our life experience to external factors, rather than take responsibility for how we can respond (healthily) to others or circumstances.

Dr. Paul

Mike C

I don’t know how you decided to send this or why but it was as if you had been watching my last 72 hrs. Being a Battalion Chief on a fire dept may seem an honored and respected position but it also a solitary , lonely and singular position . It’s as if I have no one to talk to when things build up or memories of recent or past tragedies or work stresses pile up in my head. Thank you for throwing me this life preserver it helps to know it’s there when I feel like I’m treading water.

Paul White

Mike, I’m glad it was helpful. Thanks for sharing — and for your ongoing service. If at all possible, don’t carry the load by yourself (we aren’t built to do that) — get someone (or two) that you can share the stressors of your daily life tasks and responsibilities. Dr. Paul

Debra Rykowski

Thank you so much – you were obviously reading my mind today! I work in an office position at a fire department and always the encouraging person as I see others might be stressed or handling a rough call and simply need a friendly smile, compliment or someone to just listen. But it is a lonely, underappreciated and discouraging job. I am the face people see when they walk in, but they never want to talk to, and they make that quite clear. They want the people in uniform because of course I’m just a lowly secretary that answers the phone, welcomes guests for meetings and training events, pays the bills, does the payroll, handles incoming outgoing everything including walk-in emergency situations in the front door, occasionally babysits a child or dog that is brought in with dad for a meeting, listens to all the radio traffic for emergency calls so I am aware for situational awareness for my supervisors when things get a little crazy….but they don’t want me, they want a uniform. So of course I react positively to them and I always put on a smile, ask how they are, open the door, if they talk I of course interact pleasantly, ask about their day or just listen, or reply positively back to them to help encourage them with their task or if there is a complaint, I try to make them feel important and assure them I will get them assistance. My job is constantly changing, constantly pressured, which I love and thrive on, but it’s never appreciated, people never take the time to ask about me or get to know the real me outside of handling the office, or if they do it’s flippant and they don’t wait for a response, they ask hey how are you and when I start to respond they walk away. Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love my job, love the fire service (have been in it for 35+ years as a volunteer firefighter/EMT and office assistant, I love the service, helping others, being their for others in their time of need). However, your article is spot-on – discouraged – that is the word, not upset and angry, it’s discouraged. I am quite often discouraged due to every project I work on depending on something from others who don’t accomplish their end of the task and hold up their end of the bargain. Thus it sits on my desk, waiting, getting dusty, I can only ask so much for their response, input, feedback, numbers, etc. so I face a constantly frustrating position of waiting – waiting – discouraged that I am not getting my work completed as is my built-in instinct to get it done and move on to the next project to keep my work accomplished and moving forward in an ever changing world. This is an ever-changing business and a helping business, which I love and enjoy, and I love getting things done to reflect a good, positive image to the public. I keep a smile on, keep a happy response 90% of the time (yes sometimes the discouragement just comes out and I mope, but you are absolutely right – nobody notices or cares – if they do notice they say I’m in a bad mood, which is totally not correct, I’m discouraged!). On a positive note, I must include, I have one co-worker that will once or twice a year see that I am discouraged and notice it and leave a sticky note on my desk with a simple smile on it in the morning – guess what – that makes my ENTIRE week! Such a simple thing to do for someone – yet makes my entire week worth keeping a smile on! Yes, I keep those simple sticky note smiles and look at them when I’m feeling discouraged – see – a simple gesture from one person, yet it makes a huge difference! I enjoyed reading your article – you were spot on and I will be reading others you refer to – thank you so much for enlightening myself and others with simple things we can do to make our work environment enjoyable for everyone! Thank you – sorry my comment is so long, but this was exactly what I needed to read today – Thank You for making my day brighter!

Paul White

Debra, thanks for sharing your thoughts — and especially about how much you love your job. I’m glad this “hit the spot” for you! Dr. Paul

Jacqueline Elder

Thank you so much for writing this awesome article. It is so greatly helpful.
I will share it with my colleagues at work.

Thank you!

Paul White

Jacqueline, I’m pleased that you found this post to be useful — and that you’ll be sharing it with others! Warmly, Dr. Paul