Congratulations and encouragement. Two positive nouns no doubt, but are they being used appropriately in this current age of ‘start-ups’, 'intent' and declarations of purpose?
Congratulations; words expressing one's praise for an achievement or good wishes on a special occasion.
Encouragement; the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.
Too often we are congratulating people for starting something rather than encouraging them. Too often we save our congratulations for people who are the most visible, the loudest or standing at the front of the line rather than those who have had their noses to the grindstone getting things done.
What could be wrong with congratulating people for starting things you might ask? Good question, let’s look at what congratulating someone implies.
Firstly, it implies an achievement, and frankly, simply starting something is not really an achievement. I could, in the next couple of days start 10 new businesses, 12 books, 15 marathons and 28 training sessions in the gym. I can guarantee you that none of those would be worth congratulating me for, especially if I have only started them.
It would be worth encouraging me, however, letting me know that pulling out the notepad and pen is a fantastic way to start writing a book. That getting into the gym is a great way to start getting into better shape and that you have to start a marathon in order to possibly finish it. The congratulations however need to be saved for the end, or at the very least, for some progress that can be reviewed.
Congratulations imply a special occasion. By congratulating ‘start-ups’, ‘starting-up’ and ‘grand declarations of intention’, we are implying that they are special occasions. Again, the truth is that the start of something only becomes a special occasion upon its completion. Mentioning that I am starting a marathon is not a special occasion, the start of a marathon becomes special by virtue of the work that follows. At the end of the marathon, having finished and achieved a complete outcome, the start, middle and end all become significant. By starting and pulling out 300m into the race, there is nothing to congratulate, there has been no special occasion.
Championing starting takes away from those who work hardest. It dims the light of the finishers. We fund Start-ups rather than Keep-goings, we congratulate massive statements of intention, rather than consistent execution of simpler outcomes. We invest in what we can say is going to happen, rather than invest in things that are happening. We look to what people would like to achieve, rather than look to how people will achieve it.
Focusing on starting up, and considering it something worth congratulating has given rise to a culture of the ‘elevator pitch’, the ‘tell me what you want to do in a minute or less’, the ‘explain what you’re doing in 50 words’.
When you focus on the start, you no longer need to explain all the things that are about to happen in order to achieve a goal, rather you simply focus on the outcome you haven’t achieved yet. Time and time again we are being forced to simplify the process at the beginning, so that people can better understand what is hopefully about to happen.
Elevator pitches are better utilised for the end. It is very simple to get a shorter pitch to understand what has already happened, because outcomes are easier to explain than processes.
Congratulate – “I lost 20kgs.”
Don’t congratulate “I would like to lose 20kgs”, Encourage them.
Encouragement acknowledges an impending process, or period of work, effort and output. Congratulations implies that the work has already been done. Congratulating Usain Bolt at the starting line of the 100m would be silly. Understanding all the elements that will go into Usain Bolt telling you that he will be the fastest runner in the history of mankind will also take a lot of time and effort, across many years. Congratulating him for finishing in the fastest time anyone has ever seen, that makes sense, fits into a small elevator pitch and can be communicated simply as “I am the fastest man that ever lived.”
If you are going to encourage people we intrinsically know that simply saying “I’ll lose weight” is not enough. Saying “I’ll be an Olympic Sprinter” is not enough. It needs to be backed up with effort, and that effort needs to be targeted, measured and repeated over and over again. This effort is what we need to encourage.
Encouraging sits and listens to longer presentations. Congratulations wants bite sized chunks of simple information that is outcome focused rather than process focused. In my line of work its seeing organisations simply say things like “We want to end poverty”, “We want to end homelessness”, “We want to cure all the diseases known to mankind”. We cannot congratulate these statements, we can only encourage them. If we are to encourage them, we must know what the processes are that these organisations are going through to achieve these lofty goals.
When you break down encouragement into a process based discussion, you open up the door to understanding how someone is going to go about achieving or finishing their outcomes. Lose 20kgs is not necessarily a simple process, it involves many factors and will require multiple revisions and tweaks along the way. ‘Ending Poverty’ is even more complicated!
Encouragement is necessary, Congratulations should be reserved for accomplishment. To encourage well, we need to take the time to understand the processes that people need to achieve their goals. To congratulate well, we need to take the time to hold people accountable to outcomes. Over time, we can change from a culture that applauds starting, to one that applauds consistency and outcomes. Look for the people that are doing, not just saying, and give them a shout-out. Congratulate them on their achievements to date, encourage them to continue to achieve, and as always, Just Be Nice.
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports