Should Encouragement Be Discouraged?


Everyone needs to be affirmed in their abilities and shown appreciation for what they do. However, encouragement must be authentic to achieve its purpose.

In an era when all children get a trophy—regardless of performance, are told they can do anything they want to in life—even if they obviously cannot, and are showered with applause for even the most meager achievement, perhaps leaders should give less encouragement, not more. After all, when youth leagues stop keeping score to avoid hurt feelings, what incentives do players have to hone their skills? If employees are rewarded simply for showing up, what motivation do they have for working with ever-increasing excellence? Maybe celebrating mediocrity invites average behavior. Quite possibly, passing out unearned praise harms people by conditioning them to live in a make-believe world where success comes automatically to anyone who tries.

Some would argue that employees need fewer ear-tickling compliments or pats on the back. Instead, most of them could use a “reality slap” in the face. That is, they could do with a healthy dose of the unvarnished truth. They would benefit from having a Simon Cowell in their life—someone willing to deliver feedback unfiltered by undue concern for their feelings.

Just because some persons have been excessively coddled and improperly pampered does not mean they should therefore receive less encouragement. Everyone needs to be affirmed in their abilities and shown appreciation for what they do. However, encouragement must be authentic to achieve its purpose. That is, encouragement must be:


Some leaders employ encouragement as a manipulative device. They say what their people want to hear in order to get them to perform as desired.  Eventually, inauthentic encouragement rings hollow, as people recognize that it’s a management tactic rather than heartfelt affirmation. Over time, people can differentiate feel-good platitudes from actual praise.


Encouragement should be given proportionately, with more lavish compliments reserved for more extraordinary feats. It should also be given in a timely manner so that people know immediately the value of their contribution.


To be credible, encouragement must be merited by identifiable achievement or discernible potential.


If encouragement is to help others grow, it shouldn’t be one-sided. Recognition of exceptional work should be offset by constructive feedback that points to opportunities for improvement.


Overly generalized encouragement doesn’t hit home. For encouragement to make a difference it must be connected to concrete deeds or behaviors.

Thoughts to Ponder

Can you recall a significant time in your life when someone’s authentic encouragement gave you hope or renewed your strength? How would you rate the authenticity of the encouragement you give to others? Is it sincere or shallow?

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