Encouragement and Personality

“We live by encouragement,” said actress Celeste Holm, “and we die without it – slowly, sadly, angrily.”

Every person you meet needs encouragement.  It’s part of what it means to be human.  All of us need a boost from time to time, and nobody lives constantly on the mountaintop.  We need each other for regular upliftings.

Most of us recognize this responsibility, and have a desire to encourage others, but often our attempts misfire.  Perhaps this is because personalities differ, and what encourages one person may not encourage another.

Authors such as Joyce Littauer, Gary Smalley and Tim LaHaye, have identified four basic temperament types:

  1. Sanguine – “Let’s have fun.”
  2. Melancholy --  “Let’s go deep.”
  3. Choleric --  “Let’s get moving.”
  4. Phlegmatic – “Let’s get along.”

Personally, as a sanguine, I’m inspired by inspiration.  Just give me an uplifting quote or idea, and that will pump up my spirit.  Positive thoughts help me combat a sagging spirit.  I peruse books and other resources regularly, looking for a good, positive thought that will brighten my day.  It helps me to keep on the sunny side.

Sometimes, I mistakenly believe everybody else will be uplifted by the  same things that encourage me.

However, when a melancholy shares a burden, I’ve discovered the last thing they need is a trite pep talk, “No worries!  Everything’s going to be just fine!  You’ve just gotta believe!”  Those responses aren’t helpful at all.

Instead, the way to encourage melancholies is to understand them.  They need a caring friend who will truly listen, empathize, and comprehend the depth of the situation.  The encouragement comes from not feeling alone.

The best way to encourage a choleric, on the other hand, is to do something!  They become discouraged and frustration when people sit around flapping their jaws without taking action.  Hashing in circles is the way to drive a choleric up the wall.  They interpret inaction as apathy.  The encouragement comes from getting things done.

Finally, phlegmatics are encouraged by peace.  They are disheartened by quarrelling, arguing and negative nitpicking.  Gary Smalley compares them to the golden retriever, loyal and easy going.  For them, encouragement comes when people work together in harmony for the common good.

This brings me to three important points:

First, if you only use your natural encouragement style, you won’t hit a bulls eye with 75% of people.  Nobody connects naturally with everybody.  It takes understanding and hard work.

Second, if your effort to encourage someone backfires, pause and ask if it might just be a personality collision.  You might need to make adjustments.

Third, the best way to encourage others is to speak it in their language.  The more deeply you know a person, the more likely you will know what they need.  This requires paying attention, careful listening, and a willingness to step outside of the comfort zone.  It helps if you remind yourself that this encouragement is for them and not for you.


Anonymous said…
Great post Mark. Very helpful. Going to bookmark that one.
Dave Quinn said…
Oops hit submit too soon. That was me above :-)

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