Use Encouragement For Better Performance

The manager seeks you out for assistance with a poor performing employee.  “He used to be one of my best workers,” she complains.

Your teenagers refuse to clean their rooms; in fact, they refuse to do much of anything around the house.

You have a large project due but just can’t seem to get started.  You find that you focus on the small tasks “to clear your desk” and never get “a round to it.”

The solution in each case?  Encouragement.


Few things cost as little yet go so far as encouragement.  Words, looks, and gestures, boost people’s spirits and motivate them to greater effort and new achievements.  Encouragement builds self-confidence and self-esteem.  It helps people believe in themselves and their abilities. Yet encouragement is often misunderstood.

Praise vs. Encouragement

Praise and encouragement are not the same thing. Praise is awarded for a job well done, an achievement. It is given for completed tasks as a reward for the effort. This is one of the primary problems with praise; those who need it the most are least likely to get it. We all remember the kid in the front of the class who knew all the answers and got a lot of attention. But it was the struggling, discouraged child in the back of the room who needed the attention.

The focus of praise is based on external evaluation and external control, often by an authority figure or parent. It usually involves winners and losers and creates a climate of competitiveness. The recipient may feel worthwhile only if they are “on top,” which may be at the expense of others. The same people may “win” over and over while their co-workers become discouraged and resentful. Most companies recognize the importance of teambuilding and team development, but may undermine their own efforts with incentive programs that clearly define winners and losers.

Praise can actually be discouraging. People can become over-reliant on the opinion of others, undermining their own self-worth. They may become more hesitant to make decisions and take actions on their own; exactly the behaviors employers are looking for in learning organizations. Praise produces dependency at a time we want employees to be more autonomous and self-directed.

Encouragement is given for effort or improvement. It focuses on assets and strengths as a means to contribute to the group. It sends a message that “You don’t have to be perfect,” effort and improvement are what is important. It makes it clear that each person’s contribution counts and is appreciated. An encouraging supervisor is not interested in how the employee compares to others, rather on the employee’s individual development. Encouragement fosters cooperation and trust. Unlike praise, encouragement can be given at any time, especially the times that the employee is struggling. The special language of encouragement is part of the difference.

Phrases of encouragement:

  • “I like the way you handled that problem.”
  • “It looks like you enjoyed that project.”
  • “Since you are not satisfied, what could you do to improve the situation?”

Phrases of confidence:

  • “I have confidence in your judgment.”
  • “That’s a rough one, but I’m sure you can handle it.”
  • "I know you will figure it out.”

Phrases that focus on contributions, assets, and appreciation:

  • “Thanks; that helped a lot.”
  • “Thanks, I really appreciate _________, it makes my job a lot easier.”
  • “I need your help on ______.”

Phrases that recognize effort and improvement:

  • “It looks like you really worked hard on that.”
  • “It looks like you spent a lot of time thinking that through.”
  • “I can see you’re moving along.”
  • “Look at the progress you’ve made.”

The most powerful forces in human relationships are expectations. We can influence a person’s behavior by changing our expectations of the person and using encouragement. Try practicing it on yourself, encouraging your best effort each day. Use it at home and build it into your programs on the job. Remember: a word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success.

“Barbara Bartlein, CSP, is The People Pro TM, and President of Great Lakes Consulting Group, LLC, which helps businesses sell more goods and services by developing people. She presents keynotes and seminars on stress management, balance, productivity, customer service and leadership. She can be reached at 888-747-9953, by email at: or visit her website at

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