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Effective Encouragement by Tony Stoltzfus

Mar 12th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Content, Transformational Coaching, [None]

Encouragement is an important tool for keeping clients energized and motivated. Encouragement is inspiring for all of us, and for some personality types it is the single biggest factor in motivation. Therefore, coaching support structures should always include encouragement, affirmation and celebration. When you are consistently excited about your clients’ progress, it helps them stay motivated and get more done. Offering encouragement is one of the disciplines of believing in people.

What does effective encouragement looks like? Say you’ve just completed the first stage of a major life goal—finishing the first draft of a book you have been writing. You’ve been working on this project for a year with your coach, you’ve overcome many obstacles on the way, and at your next coaching appointment you’re enthused about having reached a significant milestone. Put yourself into that role as much as you can. Then review the four sample responses below. For each one, if your coach had actually responded this way, how would it have affected your motivation?

  1. “So, we’ve finished phase one—that leaves two more to go. Since you’re roughly two months behind schedule, what could you do to get caught back up in this next phase?”
  2. “I’m glad to hear you’ve wrapped that up. What other steps did you have on your list for this week?”
  3. “Alright! Writing a book is a big achievement! You overcame some major obstacles to do this, especially the job change—you should be proud of how you stuck it out. How are you going to celebrate?”
  4. “Wow, that was super-great! You did a fantastic job! You are awesome!”

How did you react to these three statements? The way affirmation is used sends a powerful message to the client. In the first statement above, the client has just completed a major, year-long project, and the coach’s focus is on how far behind the client is. By not including any appropriate encouragement, the coach sends this message: “Even though you finished you didn’t do it right. Nothing you do is good enough.” That may not be what the coach intends to communicate—internally, he may be very pleased with the client’s progress. But failing to verbalize his feelings and moving immediately to the next problem or obstacle is a real downer for the client.

The second response above would feel like “damning with faint praise” to many. The coach’s level of excitement doesn’t match the scale of the client’s achievement. A good yardstick is to be as passionate or more than your clients are about what they have accomplished. When you are less animated, you tone down the client’s enthusiasm when your job as coach is to raise it. If the gap between your response and the client’s is wide enough, you can come even across as disapproving of their progress. So when something good happens, celebrate it together. Some of us are instinctive encouragers and do this unconsciously. If you are by nature more reserved, you may not realize that your natural responses are putting a damper on the client.

For most people, the third response above would launch them most energetically into the next phase of the project. What makes this affirmation meaningful is that it has genuine substance. The coach references specific obstacles that were overcome, and grounds the affirmation in real evidence of the client’s character and performance. He is validating and affirming the client’s identity as well as his performance.

The fourth example (“Wow, that was super great! You did a fantastic job! You are awesome!”) makes me a little queasy. Besides being overdone, it’s a pretty lazy affirmation. Nothing specific is mentioned—it’s merely a bunch of superlatives strung together. There is no reference to what was actually achieved, or the difficulties that were overcome, or what the outcome says about the character and calling of the person being affirmed. Offering superlatives alone doesn’t require that you listen closely, or tune into who your client really is. This type of affirmation quickly loses impact and begins to feel fake when overused.

I often say, “Great!” or “Alright!” when a client completes a simple step. But when it’s time to give some significant feedback, I want to say something substantial and specific, like this: “You are much more positive about life than you were two months ago—and you talk a lot less about being stressed out. You’ve focused in, and already you’re a third of the way to your sales goal for the year—that’s wonderful!” Utilizing encouragement that is substantial and specific will go a long way in keeping your client energized and motivated to stick to their plan and meet their desired goals.

Tony Stoltzfus is a master coach, author and coach trainer. More of his writings on the disciplines, skills and heart of a Christian coach can be found in his book, Leadership Coaching.

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