Someone who is excited about taking on a new task rarely needs a lot of additional encouragement, nor does someone who is happily performing a task well.

The trick is knowing how to encourage someone who has been working at something for a while, hasn’t mastered it yet, and is starting to doubt themselves. This is very common among people who have been working at a new job for a month or two, among newly formed teams who are starting to bicker internally, among new parents whose children are starting to rebel, among kids learning to play an instrument, or among newlyweds for whom “the honeymoon is over.” People might also start to doubt themselves if they used to be masters at a particular task until a new challenge came along (e.g., a new boss, new technology, or an injury.)

People starting to doubt themselves would indeed benefit from some encouragement. The question is: do they only need encouragement and a sounding board to work out some obstacles, or do they also need some advice, clear direction, and/or resources? Until we’ve determined that, we will likely miss the mark when we try to help.

If people are lacking the basic knowledge or skills needed to make things better, they’ll need more than uplifting words; they’ll need resources! If you’ve ever seen the “Supernanny” show where a nanny completely turns a family around in one week, you'll know that solid information and advice are indeed critical when that’s what someone is lacking.

On the other hand, the last thing people need when depressed or frustrated is someone telling them what they already know! If people already have the basic knowledge or skills to handle the situation, then they just need a sounding board to help them work out any obstacles in their way. Here are some quotes reflecting the art of being a sounding board with our kids without sharing our own opinions about what they “should” do:

  • “If your kid is complaining about a teacher or unfair homework assignment I find that most parents immediately try to ‘fix’ the problem. Before even going there, just empathize with your child or teen. Let them tell, explore and dump everything they are feeling about it…you might find ‘the problem’ does not need to be solved or the teen can do it themselves.” - Vanessa Van Petten
  • “The more I encourage my child to think for himself, the more he will care what I think.” – Author unknown
  • “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” – Harry S. Truman

The above quotes apply to people of all ages! May you feel more confident about how to encourage people who are starting to doubt themselves – and better able to share with people what you need whenever you start to doubt yourself!

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