How to Encourage the SMART Way

Most people are better at criticising than encouraging. I spent years learning how to encourage instead of put down. At first, it was hard to find the right words, apart from a vague “well done”. Slowly, I learnt how to encourage in a smarter and more effective way.

How to encourage the SMART way

While trying to give more meaningful encouragement, I realised that the acronym “SMART”, used for goal-setting, was quite useful. Here’s how to apply the SMART approach to encourage others.

S – Specific

While any praise feels good, there is a greater impact when the person knows what exactly he did well. Consider the difference between being vague and being specific in the following examples:

Vague: “You did well on that project.”
Specific: “You chose a really catchy name for that project. I can’t get it out of my mind.”

Vague: “Your teacher says you’re a good student.”
Specific: “Your teacher says she’s very happy that you always hand in your work on time.”

Vague: “I’m so glad I’m married to you.”
Specific: “I’m so proud to be your wife because you open the door for me every time, even after 10 years of marriage.”

M – Measurable

Even if the person knows what exactly he did well, he may not realise why this is so important to you. Letting him know the impact on you in measurable terms will make your praise meaningful.

“You chose a really catchy name for that project. I can’t get it out of my mind. I’ll be sure to remember it next time I need inspiration for my own projects.

“Your teacher says she’s very happy that you always hand in your work on time. This saves her the trouble of having to remind you and gives her ample time to go through your assignments in detail.

“I’m so proud to be your wife because you open the door for me every time, even after 10 years of marriage. When my friends see this and give me envious looks, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.

A – Action

When you praise a person’s character, he may get a warm fuzzy feeling but there’s not much he can do after that. When you praise an action instead, he can now choose to repeat that action.

Who: “You are a valuable employee.”
What: “You chose a catchy name for that project.”

Who: “You are such a good student.”
What: “You hand in your work on time.”

Who: “You are the world’s best husband.”
What: “You’re the best for opening doors for me.”

R – Relevant

We sometimes give encouragement that seems to go nowhere. I’m often guilty of this, raving about a friend’s new shoes when I know her current goal is to make more friends. Relevant encouragement is more helpful to that person by nudging her in the direction she wants to go rather than distracting her from it.

Goal: Get a promotion at work.

Irrelevant: “You chose a really catchy name for that project. You should consider a career in advertising.”
Relevant: “You chose a really catchy name for that project. I bet the bosses will pay attention when you present it at next week’s meeting.”

Goal: Improve grades in school.

Irrelevant: “It’s great that you hand in your work on time because it gives you more time to play once the work is done.”
Relevant: “It’s great that you hand in your work on time because planning ahead allows you time to plan and produce quality work which can get better results.”

Goal: Spending more time with your spouse

Irrelevant: “When you open doors for me, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world because my friends all envy me.”
Relevant: “When you open doors for me, it makes me proud to be with you and I miss you even more when you’re not around.”

T – Timely

Books on dog training say that the best time to give a dog a biscuit is when it has just done something you want it to do. If you give the biscuit later, it won’t connect the reward to the action and you would have failed in reinforcing the behaviour you want. Children know this – they ask for their promised reward as soon as they’ve performed the deed.

The best time to give encouragement for an action is when the person is still experiencing emotion connected to the action. Your timely encouragement can add to that emotion and increase the person’s motivation to repeat the action.

Emotions from an action can last from a few seconds to a few days. The best time to offer encouragement is within minutes of the person performing the action. If this is not possible, anything within the next few days still has a chance of having an impact.

How to encourage SMART-ly

Those of us not naturally gifted at encouragement will simply have to practise. I started by just thinking encouraging thoughts about others, because I couldn’t say the words without tripping over them. Eventually it became easier to verbalise meaningful encouragement, though obviously I’m still working on it.

And if you can’t figure out how to give encouragement the SMART way, just relax. A “well done” is better than nothing, and even a smile can make a person’s day.

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35 replies on “How to Encourage the SMART Way”

[…] How to Give SMART Encouragement – Daphne shows us how to apply the SMART approach to encourage others. […]

Interesting compilation of encouragement. I’ve never thought about this before.

This is my first time visit to this blog, and I have to say that I’m very impressed ;).

@ Paul,

It’s great that you came across this in the school system – our kids need so much to be encouraged in ways that support them towards their dreams and goals. Thanks for sharing here.

@ John,

Welcome! Thanks for your comment and for being impressed 🙂

I notice that I ran into maybe half of these good thoughts in workshops or other material that I came across in my career in the public elementary schools. Encouragement is encouragement I guess, whether of a child or an adult.

@ Hilary,

Interesting that you pointed out that we remember to encourage the young and old, but not us middle lot. That is so true, especially with regard to the young. We are so quick to praise them, yet forget that the adults need encouragement too. Thanks for this perceptive reminder.

@ Jannie,

Thanks for the Stumble. I’ve never heard of naming fishes! Still, it’s a thought. If I have a green or yellow fish which a really friendly fellow, I’ll name him Lance. The rainbow coloured one which dashes all about the tank and energises the other fish with its zest will be named Jannie!

Hi Daphne .. I love the way you’ve set out the differences – they make so much sense – encouragement makes so much sense to the young and to the old .. us middle lot plod along, but we need it too.

Encourage smartly makes absolute sense – it’s just turning ones thoughts around and saying it differently ..

Thank you – step out of our comfort zone and start encouraging smartly

Good to hear – all the best
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Daphne, I really love this post. Encouragement is one of important characters that leader must have.
I also like the way you wrote SMART encouragement with some examples.

Thanks for sharing, Daphne. 🙂

Don’t forget another important factor in encouragement – always let the person know you believe in them.

It gives wings to people’s abilities.

[…] well. Consider the difference between being vague and being specific in the following examples:…. How to Give SMART Encouragement | Joyful Days __________________ Is YOUR Site…. My Dynamically Exciting Lensmaster […]

@ Jocelyn,

I am so grateful for your support. It means a lot to me. The old design was neat but I felt lacked personality, yet I didn’t want to change it too much. Glad you like the new look!

@ Jodi,

Thanks for your kind words. I have to organise my thoughts or else even I don’t know what I’m trying to say! 🙂

Great one Daphne! I didn’t know we could apply the SMART principles in giving encouragement to each other. By the way, I liked your new theme, it has a more lady like and warm feel to it while still maintaining that clarity and simplicity of your previous design. 🙂 Keep it up!

@ Davina,

Thanks so much for your enthusiastic feedback. Being specific does make a difference – much greater impact!

@ Suzanne,

Gosh I really appreciate your comment. Your specific feedback that the examples helped is useful to me – I know what worked for you and can make more effort to use specific examples in future posts. Thank you so much for the tweet and Stumble. You gave me some SMART encouragement today, and are well on your way to becoming a SMART encourager, Suzanne.

@ Caity,

Thanks for visiting, and for your kind words. Glad you found it useful.

@ Giovanna,

Wow, I am grateful for your generous encouragement. Thank you for the warm words and the Stumble!

What a fantastic entry! I think so many people don’t realize that they encouragements could be even better. I learned a lot from this. Thank you!

@ Tess,

I love the mantra too, because I need it so much. You must be very happy to have your grandchildren coming. Enjoy praising them and watching them bloom under your nurturing words!

@ JD,

Yep, we’re on the same wavelength. I’ve always found that vague feedback, though it may feel good for a while, has no lasting impact and doesn’t help me or anyone else improve. Specific feedback does. Why don’t you post your series? I’ll look forward to reading it and getting more ideas.

@ Vered,

I try these ideas on my nephews a lot… they seem to work!

Beautiful connection of SMART with feedback.

It’s like riding the same wave length …

I had just cobbled together some patterns and practices for effective feedback the other day. I never posted them, but I it’s been on my mind that giving and getting effective feedback is crucial for improvement and sustainable results.

Hi Daphne,
What I really love about this post is all the very specific examples you used for each letter of the acronym. It’s one thing to talk about what each of these letters mean, and another entirely to show specifically how to apply this in daily living. Daphne, you have really given me some great ideas on how I can use this TODAY. This is something we can start to do now, even if it’s just small steps toward fully using it – and that’s pretty awesome!

@ Stephen,

Thanks for your very timely comment, so timely it was the first one! 🙂 And your reinforcement of the point about relating action and encouragement closely was reassuring to me – to hear that someone else believes it works for humans too. Thank you Stephen.

@ Dani,

I’m encouraged that you intend to put these tips into practice straightaway. It makes me glad that I posted this today instead of waiting a few days, because more people will get the benefit of your positive presence in their lives!

@ Megan,

Thanks for the “well done!” (smile back) and rest assured that I’m certainly not SMART all the time, only when I remember to try! It does become easier with practice and I know you can do it because you have the desire and find the advice easy to follow, which means you’ll be able to implement it with just a little conscious effort. Thank you for your loving, helpful comment. You really are a loving, helpful person!

@ Jus,

I love the title of your post “Build ’em up, don’t Beat ’em up!” and I need to go read that right away, to remind myself to follow this very good advice. Thank you for being so specific about what you like and for letting me know what you’re going to do with it – I would be honoured if you quoted some of this post.

@ Lance,

Ah, you’re beating me at my own game. Thanks for your SMART comment, you SMARTy pants! 😉 You really pick up the gist of what I’m trying to say so quickly. In fact, you seem to have a gift for encouragement and I’ve learnt a lot from your example – in the way you write your specific and detailed comments, and in how you reach out to others personally through emails. This lets people know you care and that they are special to you, and has resulted in a very loyal following that other bloggers aspire to. Your example has helped me to improve as a blogger, and YOU’re pretty awesome!

I totally LOVE this post. It’s great advice and so well written and easy to follow… I like it because it’s so akin to my own Asset Based Thinking approach to coaching and encouraging others – “Build ’em up, don’t Beat ’em up!”
If you don’t mind, I am going to quote some of your post on my blog too. 🙂

What a wonderful post with very pertinent, easy-to-follow advice. Well done! (smile)
I always like reading things that help me reframe how to be a more loving, helpful person. It may take me awhile to get in the habit of being totally SMART all the time, but practice makes perfect and I think I can do it!

Have a beautiful day!

Daphne, very interesting idea! I especially like the last one – timely. Timely comments and encouragement are critical. We aren’t dogs, but the closer we relate two events (the action and the encouragement) the stronger the connection in their brain and their heart. Well done!

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