How Encouragement Enhances Our Productivity

How Encouragement Enhances Our Productivity

Criticisms and conflicts are an inevitable part of our lives. No matter what we do, there will be some people who won’t like something about it, or us. Conversely, there will also be people who would give us courage and appreciation in the face of a challenge.

Have you ever stopped to think which of these two have actually helped you in the long run? Chances are, it’s the latter.

We love to judge and criticise, and not necessarily to hurt. Harsh words and criticisms are often used strategically to increase productivity. Yet according to science, criticism is actually a very weak strategy for instilling change – encouragement works far better.

September 12 is celebrated as National Day of Encouragement in the US.  We take this opportunity to discuss the enormous positive impact encouragement can have on our lives and productivity, and also how it can be effectively used to foster better personal and professional outcomes.

The science of encouragement – how words can change your brain

How we speak, and are spoken to, regulates a large chunk of our emotional activities. Now, both negative (criticisms) and positive (encouragement) words elicit emotional reactions in the listener – and prompts them to action.

But there is significant difference in the reactions this two kind of words can instigate. They activate different parts of our brain, and let flow different neurotransmitters. Hence, the effect they have on our cognitive capacities and actions are also vastly different.

Multiple recent studies have shown that even single words/phrases like “no”, “shut up”, “peace”, and “love” introduce quantifiable changes in our brain chemistry. Through practice, our brain becomes habituated to associate certain words to certain emotions, and even a non-contextual uttering of those words can elicit different emotional responses. Imagine what a full-blown negative conversation can do to the brain of the listeners.

  • Negative words and expressions affects the Amygdala, home to our primary emotions, and unlocks our survival/stress response. It increases the flow of cortisol in our bloodstream, leading to a narrowing of focus and restlessness. If these feelings are not mitigated, or a person is exposed to this over and over again, excess cortisol can erode our cognitive capacities and curb areas like creativity, attention, and motivation.
  • Positive words on the other hand, unlocks the reward circuit, and has a rejuvenating effect on the listener. They light up the prefrontal cortex of our brain, an area associated with creativity and cognitive functions such as thinking, memorizing, and information processing. More importantly, positive words and attitudes boost the production of dopamine, thereby increasing our motivation and renewing our focus on the work at hand.
How to effectively use encouragement as a social skill
  • Exercise empathy. Before starting any conversation, take a moment to think and visualize what you would have done in the same situation as the person you are going to talk to. Consider their unique constraints and situations.
  • When talking about someone else’s fault or mistake, talk specifically about the matter at hand and do not blame their abilities or nature. Generalized blame feels unfair to a listener, and that feeling of hurt often impedes them from self-improvement.
  • Speak clearly about exactly how and where things went wrong and how it could be avoided.
  • Mention the things that person did do right. It provides a sense of reward and helps with cognition and rectification.
  • Suggest improvements, and the way things could be rectified. It empowers the listener to control the outcome, and boosts their confidence.

Encouraging behaviour does not come to us naturally, it has to be cultivated. Yet, it is the invention of positive behaviour exchange even in confrontational contexts that made the complex human society possible and made us different from our ape cousins. Let us take a leaf out of our ancestors’ books.

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