Sunday, February 10

Language of Encouragement OR How to be a Sweetie

Language of encouragement means using your words in a subtle way to show you believe in someone.  Great for kids, effective at work, helps you get things done!  It's a valuable skill for everyone to have.  Plus, I couldn't resist the Doctor Who reference to River Song.  Learn how, after the jump!
       When we speak, we chose our words.  Often, we just let our unconscious minds chose the words and that's usually fine.  But a lot of us are subtle jerks because we do that.  Especially to kids.  And even as adults, life is hard, but we tend to notice the people who are genuinely charitable towards us.  I somehow managed to make several friends who are pursuing careers in linguistics and maybe someday they'll offer insight, too.
     Here's the basic lesson: Speak as though things are positive and will happen.  Here's an example of what most parents say, "If you clean your room, you get a candy bar."   The problem is with the word 'if', so let's try that again, "When you clean your room, you get a candy bar."  Tiny change, but an important difference because it implies that the kid will clean their room.  As a culture, we tend to use 'if' when we're talking about fantastical things.  If I win the lottery.  But we say 'when' for things that are inevitable.  One word, but a world of meaning.  That meaning makes kids feel like you believe in them, it changes how we feel about ourselves (when I get that promotion versus if I get that promotion).  Say 'if' for the things you don't want, but say 'when' for the things you desire.
     There's also an element of generally being positive.  Being grateful and thankful for what does happen.  People who are able to take stock of what they are grateful for tend to be happier people, the research tells us.  You can do that every day in simple ways and with the language of encouragement it's about hoping for or acknowledging the best.  I'm so glad that you brushed your teeth without being asked! or You're really good at organization, I know you'll do fine getting the tax information together for us.  Bestowing trust on the other people.  The only thing to be careful of here is the dreaded backhanded compliment.  The backhanded compliment goes like this I'm so glad you brushed your teeth without being asked!  Why can't you do that everyday?  Don't turn it around to what isn't working, just be positive.
     It's fine to acknowledge what isn't working, but when you say, why can't you do that everyday it places blame on the person and blame makes people defensive and people who are defensive dig their heels in.  You can problem solve using language of encouragement, too.  It looks like this isn't working.  What can we do to make it work?  That phrasing introduces a collaborative approach, offers support (what can we do versus what can you do), and implies that there is a workable solution in sight.  Another one when you need to be tactful with kids or adults is to focus on what did work in the process.  Sometimes stuff just doesn't work out and when you approach it with a positive, optimistic bent, it can still be valuable.  The product is almost insignificant, we are encouraging people, not praising their outcome.  You are so good at time management.  It's basically a positive reframe.  Finding that silver lining.  It's not about the final product, which may or may not have gone up in flames.  It's about what the person did well.
     Language of encouragement is just about being kind to one another.  It also helps us identify our strengths so that we can continue to grow and build on them, without putting us down and making us second guess ourselves.  It's about extending kindness, whether to friends, family, kids, that awkward coworker.  Life is hard and it's fine to plan for the best, but you can plan for the best while assuming the best in people (not necessarily the best from them, but that it's in there).  Think about the positive interactions you have had with people and I bet you'll notice that it was because they focused on your successful processes, encouraged (rather than praised) you, thanked you for your efforts, or were grateful for your strengths.  It sticks out because it tends to be the exception, rather than the rule.  Let's change that.