A number of years ago I was on vacation in Maine and had dinner at a Friendly’s restaurant. I was by myself and many times what I have experienced when I eat out alone is that the wait staff just hurries you in and out, but not here. The waitress and manager both asked me if I was on vacation, gave me suggestions of things to do and engaged me in conversation the entire time. It was wonderful, so when I got home I decided to contact the Friendly’s home office to tell them about my experience at this location. When I got through to someone at their headquarters, I was surprised that instead of thanking me and taking down the name of the franchise and the manager there to contact them about their outstanding customer service, they simply said, that is the kind of customer service we expect in all of our locations.
Because they seemed a little caught off guard and defensive I wondered if the Friendly’s home office had ever received any compliments or if they were only used to handling complaints. It also left me wondering if the Friendly’s home office every encouraged their local restaurant managers or employees because they never took the information about the location I was at in Maine or the name of the staff that made me feel so good. What this all reflects is that we live in a culture that is much more comfortable with criticism than compliments. In fact, studies have shown that in business, the ratio between complaints and compliments is about 10 to 1, but it isn’t much better in personal relationships. According to a Gottman Institute study, for every one encouraging comment we receive there are 6 critical comments to go with it.
This explains a lot. This explains why our work places are so negative and why employee morale is so low. It is hard to stay positive when what we hear over and over again is that we aren’t doing a good job. I was talking to a local business owner who recently had given a lot of free services to a family going through a crisis and he was really discouraged because things just had not gone well and after he ranted for about 10 minutes he said, I would be willing to endure it all if they would have just said thank you. For him that one message of encouragement and thanks would have made everything else bearable – but he never got it.
This not only explains why the work place is so stressful and negative, but why marriages and families are struggling as well. When all we hear from those who are supposed to love and support us unconditionally is criticism – it undermines relationships. When all we hear in a marriage is, “why can’t you do anything right?” or “Why can’t you be more like…?” it undermines trust which weakens the relationship. And when all that children hear is how they don’t measure up to their peers or why they didn’t get a higher grade or into a better school, it undermines their feelings of self-worth and confidence which has a negative effect on everyone.
So let me ask you to take a moment and reflect on your words this past week. At work, at home, at school, and among your friends or peers what was your ratio of complaints to compliments? Did you spend more time being negative and putting people down or did you spend more time encouraging people and building them up? I don’t ask this to make us feel bad but because we need to be aware of our own ratio so we can improve it – which leads us to this week’s life app – encouragement. The Bible tells us that when we encourage others, 2 very important things happen; the first is that others are lifted up and that makes sense, but the second thing might surprise you. When we encourage others we ourselves are encouraged ourselves.
Let’s look at the biblical foundation for all of this and let’s start with God’s call to encourage one another. We see this several places in the New Testament:
1 Thessalonians 5:11,
All three of these passages us tell us that we need to choose our words carefully but Ephesians 4 takes it one step further and says we should only speak words that are useful for building others up. So any critical words we give need to be constructive criticism given in love to build up the other person, not just negative words said to be critical. To follow these biblical principles we have to become more intentional in our conversation and actually think before we speak, and we need to do this in every relationship we have.
As we begin to think about what the application of this principle looks like, let’s break down our relationships into 3 separate circles. The first one is our circle of life.
These are the casual relationships we have with people that we might see on a regular basis like the people who wait on us at banks and coffee shops and the neighbors we say hi to as we are out raking leaves. What words do we use when we encounter these people? Do we take the time to notice how they are doing and if they seem stressed and in need of encouragement? If they are people who spend their time waiting on us in the store or restaurant do we thank them for their service or encourage them in some way? So many people are beaten down by life and when they go to work and hear negative comments 10 times more often than anything positive it can be devastating, but we can begin to turn that around with just one positive word. Make it part of your thinking to look for something positive to say to encourage someone when you enter a store or restaurant.
Last year I was at the outer banks and again was having dinner in a restaurant when I noticed how my waitress cared for a single dad and his 3 young children and another table. She took the time to talk with them and even stood at the table with one of the children while the Dad took the other two to the bathroom. I was so impressed by the sensitivity and service of this waitress that I not only made sure I gave her a good tip, but I made sure to find the manager on my way out and comment about how amazing she was. Unlike the home office of Friendly’s, that manager there was so pleased to hear the comment. If we look for something positive – we can find it and when we share it we begin to build others up.
Within our life circle there are relationships in which we go deeper and we will call these our circle of influence.
These relationships would include the people we work with – both peers, leaders and employees, as well as people we serve with in the church or community, the teachers and coaches of our children, team mates and band members in school, church members and our friends. This might be the circle where we can make the greatest impact because it is the area where we are probably the least active in sharing positive feedback. Too often at work we are so focused on our job that we forget to look around and see how other people are doing, and when the ratio of complaints to compliments is 10 to 1 in business – many people at work are needing to hear that one compliment. So if you are a boss or supervisor at work, one of the questions you should be asking those you lead is this, how are you doing? Not what are you doing, but how are you doing? That question builds people up. That question lets people know that we care about them and not just their work performance.
Again, this circle is where we might be able to have the greatest impact, but only if we take the time to identify the people and their needs. Make a list of the people you work with and think about ways to encourage them. Make a list of friends that might be going through difficult times and find ways to let them know that you care about them. Look around you this morning and pick out one or two people in the church that God is leading you to encourage this week, write down their names and then because application is…. (everything), do something about it.
And then there is the inner circle of our relationships and this would include spouses, children, siblings, parents and close friends.
While the greatest impact we might be able to make is in the circle of influence because it is where we are the least active, it is in our inner circle where the words we say carry the most weight because these relationship are the most intimate and vulnerable. Our words here carry so much weight that we need to be careful about what we say and we need to make sure we are saying all that we need to.
So let’s take a moment and think about a few of these relationships and let’s start in a general way by looking at what we need to say to men and women. Women, let me start with you, do you know what the men in your inner circle are asking themselves? At any age, they are asking themselves, do I have what it takes? In Jr. & Sr. High, teenage boys are asking if they have what it takes to make the sports team or join a club or organization or make it into college or have the kind of career they want. They ask themselves, do I measure up to my peers? Younger men are asking themselves if they have it what it takes to be a good husband or father. Most new fathers are asking themselves this very question the first time they hold their new baby. Do I have what it takes to provide for this child throughout its life?
Not only do they ask that at home, but they ask it about work as well. Do I have what it takes to make it in business or on the job? I talk to so many men who do a wonderful job at work but every day live in fear of being discovered as being totally incompetent in what they do. They aren’t at all, but the question that plagues them is do I have what it takes? Even in retirement they ask, do I have what it takes to still make a difference when I’m not working full time? Do I have what it takes to still provide for my family? Women, I tell you that every man asks this question and they need to hear words of encouragement letting them know that you believe in them and that you believe they do have what it takes. Men need to hear those words of encouragement.
Now men, do you know what women ask? They ask the same thing, do I have what it takes, but women not only face the same issues men do, they have the added pressures of trying to look a certain way. Women, more than men, have to live up to an impossible ideal of what it means to be beautiful and they need to hear words of encouragement that tell them that they are noticed and valuable and beautiful just the way they are. If you don’t believe this to be true, listen to these sad facts. 1 out of every 10 girls has an eating disorder but the issue goes deeper than that. 40% of girls age 9 & 10 have already dieted and 53% of American girls are unhappy with their bodies. It’s an epidemic that can be reversed with some encouraging words said on a regular basis.
And parents, if you hear nothing else today, hear this, while the average ratio of criticism to compliments is 6 to 1, in the parent child relationship it is 8 to 1, that means while the world may put down our children a lot, we put them down more. We give our children 8 negative comments to every 1 positive comment. Can I just say this clearly – we have to do better. Think about what the conversations are like with your child? What is your ratio? How can you improve it? What positive words can you start giving your children today? What negative comments can you cut out today? This doesn’t mean we don’t instruct and guide and direct our children, but we need to find encouraging ways to do it?
And teens – your parents need some encouragement too! I know you think your parents simply can’t do anything right – but they can and they are trying and they love you more than you know and they are working hard and being beaten down every day, so a word of thanks and appreciation and encouragement from you could dramatically improve your relationship with them. We need to examine all the relationships in our inner circle and begin to find ways to encourage one another and build up one another more.
Now here is what is really sad, do you know where we get the ratio right? At funerals, at funerals we don’t focus on people’s faults and failures, we focus on the positives. We share the ways the person inspired us and helped us. What we need to do is start saying these things to people while they are still alive and when sharing these words of encouragement will do some good. To share encouraging words at a funeral is nice, but it’s too late for the person, we need to say those words now.
So the application of this principle is simple, find ways this week to encourage people in every circle of life. Be intentional and look for specific ways you can encourage people. Set a goal of encouraging a certain number of people in each circle every day and then begin to do it, keep score. Don’t make it a law to follow make it a game to play and share this game of encouragement with others.
Now, here is the consequence of encouraging others that will make you want to do it more and more. When we encourage others – we are encouraged ourselves. Let me say that again, when we encourage others – we are encouraged ourselves. This isn’t coming from experience or studies or conventional wisdom, it is coming from God. Look at Proverbs 11:25, just the second half of the proverb. Refresh others and you will be refreshed. Replenish others and you will be replenished. Encourage others and you will be encouraged. Build others up and you will be built up.
You see, this life app of encouragement isn’t just for others it is for us as well. When we apply it – we will be encouraged. It’s hard to imagine how something that seems so small could make such a big difference, but it can – in every relationship. And the ripple effect is huge because the more people we encourage, the more they will encourage others and the more we all encourage others the more we will be encouraged and in time every relationship in every circle of life improves which means marriages, businesses, schools and communities all improve.
Now when we started this series we heard that we should not be hearers of the word only but doers of it as well. Or, as we have heard over and over again, application is… (everything).
So we can’t just hear the word today to encourage people – we need to do it. So commit to finding specific ways to encourage people in every circle of life.
Life Apps ~ Encouragement
He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25b)
1. Determine your compliment / complaint ratio?
Take some time to reflect on your conversations this past week and see how often you were positive vs. how often you were negative.
2. Make the decision to be more encouraging.
If this is not your natural inclination (and for many of us it is not, so don’t worry), ask God for the help you need to be more encouraging in your conversations and relationships.
3. Identify 3 people in your circle of life or influence who need encouragement and then encourage them this week.
4. Think about the relationships in your inner circle (children, parents, siblings, and friends) and identify those who need your encouragement the most. How can you change your conversations to build others up?
5. As you encourage others, trust that God will be lifting you up as well.
Life Apps Series Overview:
Forgiveness, Confession, Rest, Trust, Encouragement:
Which app will make the greatest impact in your life if you keep living it out?
How can you commit yourself to that today? And remember…
Application is EVERYTHING!