Encouraging Others is a Learned Skill
Encouraging others does not come naturally for me. Maybe my intorvertedness or laziness keeps me from encouraging others, but I know that encouragement plays an important role in others achieving success.
Everyone Moves at a Different Pace
My husband and I took ten kids mountain biking on Sunday. One young man had never been on an Ojeda bike trip before, and didn’t realize what he had signed up for. I usually stay at the end of the group, waiting for the stragglers and making sure no one gets hurt.
When we hit a difficult part of the trail, I hang back and think up new blog posts or solve world problems whilst the kids grunt and groan and push their bikes up the trail. Eventually they get far enough ahead so that I can clean the trail without fear of having to stop in a tight spot and end up having to push my bike.
Two miles into our 9.5-mile trip, he ran out of water. I had a small bottle of frozen water that I moved to a side pocket where it would melt more quickly. Each time he asked for water, I would stop and share the melted water with him.
Four miles into the trip, he hopped off his bike and sat on the ground. “Did you eat your granola bar already?” I asked him. He had. I grabbed another one from my pack and tossed it to him. “Eat some of this,” I told him, “it will build your energy up.”
Six miles into the trip, he alternated between pushing his bike fifteen feet, sitting on the ground and riding fifty feet before he took another break. “Have you ever gone on a mountain bike ride before?” I asked him. He shook his head no. “Well, in that case, you’re doing an awesome job!” I assured him. “The first time out can be rough!” His sad face stared at me with unblinking eyes.
Experiment with Encouragement
In situations like this, I never know what to do. Does he want an audience for his agony, or does he need encouragement to just keep on slogging along the trail? I felt frustrated by his lack of progress, so I decided to experiment by staying out of sight behind him. He continued to hop off his bike every 50 feet or so, and his resting periods got longer and longer. The sum total of his conversation included two words: “I’m thirsty!”
I tried riding in front of him, but he quickly fell out of sight and I had to stop over and over again to wait for him. In addition, I didn’t feel comfortable having him out of sight behind me.
Pedro called to check on us and I let him know how far behind we had fallen. I offered to take the shortcut back to the vehicles, so that he and the bigger group could just keep on riding. This time, when my buddy and I started up, I tried something different. I kept about 30 feet behind him, and each time it looked like he was preparing to stop, I would praise him. “Great job on riding over that rough spot!” I would call out. “Keep up the good work!”
It seemed to work, because our pace picked up slightly. I heard water sloshing in my bottle, so I said, “Hey! Some more water has melted. Would you like some?” When we stopped, I explained the trail numbering system and told him how to figure out the remaining distance.
Each time we passed a numbered marker, I would give him the remaining distance. At our next break, he said, “So we have seven quarters left to go, right?” He even smiled when he said it.
Once we hit the logging road, I sprinted ahead to see how far we had to go to reach the parking area. When I crested a small rise, I could see the vehicles and the rest of the group milling around. I circled back to my friend, who had once again started pushing his bicycle, and said, “We’re almost there! You can make it!”
He hopped on his bike and raced off whilst I leisurely turned my bicycle and headed back. I briefly thought about sprinting to the finish, but decided to let him show up first.
The other kids cheered for him when he reached the parking lot, and my chest filled with pride and gratitude that everyone else had joined in affirming him. I have such good students!
Later on whilst grabbing a bite to eat at Taco Bell, I overhead a group of kids talking. “Mr. Ojeda beat me by this much!” one of them said, as he demonstrated the gap of an arm’s length.
“Well, I beat Mrs. Ojeda!” my little buddy exclaimed. The kids gave him a high-five and patted him on the back.
A few minutes later, one of the group turned to me and quietly stated, “That’s because you chose to stay behind, isn’t it, Mrs. Ojeda?”
I smiled mysteriously in reply. My heart melted that the young man would be perceptive enough to ask his question quietly and to affirm me in the process.
What I Learned
1. People need different kinds of encouragement.
2. Take the time to experiment and find out what works best.
3. Remember to praise the product and encourage the person.
4. Others take cues from you. We have a culture of encouragement on our mountain bike rides. I often hear Pedro leading out in the cheers and encouragement as kids make it up difficult spots. Our students don’t come from homes where encouragement and affirmations play a part in their lives, but how quickly they catch on and share their skills with others!
What about you? Do you have any tips for the rest of us on how to encourage others?