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November 14, 2010

“Choose to give encouragement whether one succeeds or fails,
and see him/her lives up to it.”

One of the ways people improve is by seeking others’ opinion. It’s usually after one person finishes a task when he/she asks for feedback. A feedback can be positive or negative, and usually it depends on how the person actually performed.

Say, the person looking for the feedback is A.
If I think A does a good job, especially in comparison to others, I will say, “Congratulations!! You did such a great job!” or “Wow! That was amazing!” or “I am so proud of you!” Plus, I will say all that will full excitement.

If I think A does an ok job, I will say, “Hey, good job!”, or “That was nice!”, or “You certainly have trained hard for it!” And I probably smile while saying that.

If I think A does a not-so-good to awful job, I will probably say things in the line of: “Good job, but you can do (this part) better” or “Nice try, why don’t you do (this part) (in a different way) next time.” Sometimes, I don’t say anything at all, just to avoid A getting discouraged.

~ ~ ~

Now, I would like to first limit the scope of this reflection to cover A’s actions that are not morally/spiritually related, but just ordinary, daily routines or work. And I want to bring this up in the matter of Encouragement and Appreciation. I used to be pretty thrifty in giving those. I would only say “Great” if it’s really great, and most of the time, things are merely “Ok”.

It was about four years ago when I first experienced first-hand the power of encouragement and praise. It was the first time I did something and everybody threw rains of compliments, even though I know I did ok, not great. But instantly I realized how encouraging it was, and how happy I became. In this group, even when one of us made mistakes, others would focus on his/her motivation and thus give lavish and sincere appreciations. To this day, I have never got negative review, yet still continuously improving in what I do. In a way, the compliments make me try to live up to the high expectation.

~ ~ ~

I used to argue that this technique won’t work all the time. In some cases, we should bring up the mistakes, being hopeful that the person will correct it next time. Sometimes though, we fall into being too focused on the problem and sound accusative, thus we fail to help the person to improve. So, what should we do?

Recently I am reading the book How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. It is a great book, which I definitely recommend you to read, too. There are multiple chapters in the book that discuss “how to be nice and criticize others at the same time.” I pick only two chapters to get these two rules:

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation
  2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly

Note that it asks for honest appreciation, not faked praises that sound lame and the other person will surely notice it. One way to look at it is: when we make mistakes, we still like to be appreciated for what we have done, especially if we have put effort on it or are struggling in areas that outsider are not aware of; and we definitely do not mind being encouraged to do even better.

This book is full of examples, many of which are too long to quote here. So I pick these shorter ones, quoted exactly as in the book:

Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise followed by the word “but” and ending with a critical statement. For example, in trying to change a child’s careless attitude toward studies, we might say, “We’re really proud of you Johnnie, for raising your grades this term. But if you had worked harder on your algebra, the results would have been better.”
In this case, Johnnie might feel encouraged until he heard the word “but.” He might then questioned the sincerity of the original praise. To him, the praise seemed only to be a contrived lead-in to a critical inference of failure.
This could be easily overcome by changing the word “but” to “and.” “We’re really proud of you Johnnie, for raising your grades this term, and by continuing the same conscientious efforts next term, your algebra grade can be up with all the others.”

For the first few days of the work, when Mrs. Jacob returned from her job, she noticed that her yard was strewn with the cut ends of lumber. She didn’t want to antagonize the builders, because they did excellent work. So after the workers had gone home, she and her children picked up and neatly piled all the lumber debris in a corner. The following morning she called the foremen to one side and said, “I’m really pleased with the way the front lawn was left last night: it is nice and clean and does not offend the neighbors.” From that day forward the workers picked up and piled all the debris to one side, and the foremen came in each day seeking approval of the condition the lawn was left in after a day’s work.


I started thinking about this not while reading from the bible, but I’m sure the bible talks about encouragement and praises. Here are some verses that I think are relevant:

1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Proverbs 15:2
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

Ephesians 4:29
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

I myself am still learning to apply this in my interaction with other people. So far it has helped me to be more careful with my choice of words, try to look at other people from their positive sides, and just be supportive to them.

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