The Anatomy of Encouragement

How To Express Positive Encouragement
Curated By
Dr. Joel Wong

Dr. Joel Wong is a professor and the director of the Counseling Psychology Program at Indiana University. Dr. Wong graduated with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Asian American Psychological Association. His research interests are in positive psychology (especially encouragement and gratitude), men and masculinities, and Asian American mental health.

Words to Use to Encourage People You Care About:

1. Empathize with the person's fears and anxieties (if any). The recipient will be more likely to view your encouragement message as credible and genuine.   

  • Example: “I know that the past week has been very challenging for you…” 

2. Express confidence in the person. 

  • Examples: “I really believe in you!” “I am confident you will eventually be able to...” 

3. Provide a reason for your confidence in the person or the person’s situation. This makes your encouragement message more credible. Whenever possible, use specific examples from the person’s life. 

  • Example: “Here is why I believe you will succeed…”

4. Make a positive prediction about the person’s future. Try to see beyond your recipient’s current abilities or situation to envision what this person will be capable of in the future.  

  • Example: “In 10 years’ time, I see you as…”  

5. Identify the person’s latent strengths. Latent strengths refer to strengths that have not been fully realized yet. Often, people don’t notice their own latent strengths. 

  • Example: “I’ve noticed you have the ability to… I’m willing to work with you to nurture this strength of yours!”  

6. Acknowledge things that went well in the past. This could be particularly helpful if the recipient has a tendency to remember failures rather than positive events. Try to be specific. If you say “good job,” explain what the person did, specifically, that was good.

  • Example: “The last time this happened, everyone reached out to support you, and things eventually worked out for you.” “You did a good job on this project! Here’s what I specifically like about what you did…”

7. Point out the person's specific character strengths and their relevance to a current situation. Examples of character strengths include love of learning, enthusiasm, grit, teamwork, perseverance, etc. 

  • Example: “I’m less concerned about your current abilities, and I’m more impressed by your strong commitment to learning. If you don’t know something, you are not afraid to ask for help or get feedback to improve. This is why I’m confident you will improve.” 

8. Acknowledge the person's progress (even if more progress is needed). 

  • Example: “I’ve seen a lot of improvement in [area in need of improvement] over the past year. You’re making good progress, and I know you’ll continue to improve.” 

9. Acknowledge the person's effort. 

  • Example: “I know you’re working hard at improving your writing skills, and I just want you to know that I appreciate it. 

10. Encourage the person to persevere. 

  • Example: “I know that learning a new language is tough. Hang in there, and don’t give up. Mastering Spanish takes time. One day, it will all make sense.” 

11. Disclose how much this person matters to you. 

  • Example: “Honestly, employing you has been one of my best decisions over the past few years. I am so grateful that you joined our team!”

12. Use words that demonstrate you care for the person, and that you’re invested in this person’s success. 

  • Example: “I’m rooting for your success!” “I’m backing you up.” “I’m thinking of you and sending you good thoughts this week.”

13. Use positive emotion words that disclose how you feel toward this person. 

  • Example: “I’m excited about your potential.” “I’m so delighted to see your progress in…”

14. Tell this person how you will provide support. This could be in the form of instrumental and/or emotional support. 

  • Examples: (Instrumental support) “If necessary, we can meet more often to discuss your research progress.” (Emotional support) “I’m here for you if you want to talk more about your anxieties concerning your research skills.”
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