As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s incredible life today, let’s focus on the many ways he encouraged and lifted up those around him. For 13 years, Dr. King encouraged hundreds of thousands of people in ways you may not expect – to this day he is one of the most influential men in history. You may remember the “I have a Dream” speech or now the march in Selma, but Dr. King encouraged and inspired others in many other ways.
Communication is not about us, “the giver,” it’s about “the receiver” and how they perceive our message. If I say “I love you” over and over to my wife, does she really feel my love or do I need to show it in a way that’s more impactful?
Dr. Gary Chapman has become famous for his 5 Love Languages book and quiz, which notes that we all receive love/encouragement differently and in order for you to feel love from me I must show it to you “on your terms.” Bottom line, what’s encouraging to me, may not be encouraging to you and vice versa. Dr. Chapman’s 5 Love Languages include Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.
Here are 5 ways to encourage and lift others, as Dr. King did:
1. Be present and engage
Dr. King embraced every one on one conversation as a gift – as the most important conversation he would ever have. In a recent Leadership Development seminar we were asked to act like the person next to us was the “least important person in the world,” then at the snap of a finger they were the “most important person in the world.” Can you imagine the vast difference in physicality, tone, words and overall engagement? What does being fully present and engaged with the “most important person in the world” look like to you? This quote sums it up nicely: “The best portion of your life will be the small, nameless moments you spend smiling with someone who matters to you.”
A simple, unexpected note can have a major impact on someone’s life. Be specific and personal, letting them know how much you care. If you run a team – go for it! It may not be something you think of for the work environment, but how cool would it be to receive a note from your boss that says you’re valued and an asset to the team? When was the last time you received an unexpected note, and what made it so special? Genuine, heartfelt, specific and handwritten usually hits the spot.
3. Give more
Mahatma Gandhi once said that “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Dr. King was one of the most giving men of his generation. He gave his time, his freedom, his heart, his home, his money, and eventually his life for the empowerment and encouragement of others. No matter our circumstances, we are all in a position to give more. According to a survey and study by researchers Dunn, Akin, Aknin and Norton, giving also makes the “giver” happier. When we think of giving we think about volunteer work and charities. But giving comes in so many shapes and sizes. Give someone a ride who doesn’t have transportation this week, call that relative of yours that hasn’t heard from you in months… (or years!), shovel the snow off your neighbor’s driveway — just because, grab a coffee for your office mate, anything that shows someone you care. That’s giving.
One way Dr. King encouraged was by giving his people a voice. He gave them a platform and a stage to share their concerns, beliefs, passions and fight for something greater. As encouragers, sometimes the best gift is giving someone a platform to express themselves. It can have a major impact.
Here are other best practices for giving from a recent Huffington Post article Want to be happier? Give more. Give better: Give to specific projects, give more frequently in smaller amounts, give with no strings attached, give when you know who your donation will help, and give in public ways.
To bring it back to others, research shows that giving and compassion for others is contagious. So when you give to others, they in turn want to give as well. Think of the drive thru at Starbuck. How many times have you heard, “the person in front of you already paid for you?” – what do you naturally say? Yep – “awesome, I’ll pay for the person behind me.” That’s contagious giving in action! Let’s be at the front of that line and give more freely!
Here’s an AWESOME example of how someone who was bullied all his life, chose to give in one special way that completely changed his life and those around him. (Watch his quick story here)
4. Be in the trenches
One thing I admire about Dr. King is he took every step he asked his follow man/woman to walk. He practiced what he preached and gained the respect of everyone around him. He was on the front lines of the march, with the first to go to jail, refusing to leave because of his name. One of the best ways to encourage others is to be in the trenches with them. As a manager, stay late if you have to, work lunches if you have to — as a parent, clean up with your kids, work on school/work projects with your kids. Drive a deeper connection with those closest to you, by being in the trenches, lifting others, and allowing them to lift you.
5. Be honest with yourself
Dr. King knew he wasn’t going to reach everyone and he was ok with that. The same is true for us:
1) You’re not going to be able to encourage everyone – some are not encouragable and others won’t connect with you on that level. That’s ok, the faster you get over it and move on, the better.
2) Everyone has a unique encouragement style, don’t try and mimic everyone around you. I may encourage by holding people accountable and being strong with people, that may not work for everyone. It may back fire on you. Go with your gut and encourage and lift others in a way that feels genuine, honest and real.
Let’s put these 5 lessons to practice and commit to lifting others every day. Someone once said, “my goal is to change one life a day!” I like that goal. Remember, be an encourager, the world has plenty of critics already.
Engage and comment:
What ways have you found to be effective as the “giver” and “receiver” of encouragement?