Praise Versus Encouragement

Praise Versus Encouragement


Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection, and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.

He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue. Proverbs 28:23

There is a difference between praise and encouragement. The main difference is that encouragement can be given even when someone has done wrong. Praise can only be given when something has gone right. We need encouragement more than praise. It is actually possible that praise can be a negative. As today’s Scripture verse from Proverbs tells us, the person who rebukes another will actually find more favor than one who flatters another. That is because flattery is often less than truthful, and people appreciate the truth in a rebuke more than a false instance of flattery.

Dr. Timothy Evans, who has studied and written extensively on encouragement describes three levels of praise. “Light praise” is typical flattery and politeness when we offer “what is expected” regardless of the truth. This occurs in social settings where we tell people they look nice even if they look bad, or we say that a meal was good even if it was terrible. Receiving this kind of praise is confusing because we don’t know if someone is being truthful or only polite.

“Medium praise” is “when we use gold stars for good behavior.” These are external motivators for good behavior. This kind of praise motivates based on some kind of recognition.

“Hurtful praise” is damaging. It makes use of superlatives like “You are the best,” or “You are great” or “You are better then everyone.” While this make someone feel good temporarily, these kinds of phrases are actually discouraging. Why? That doesn’t seem to make sense. Don’t people WANT to be told “You are the best”? Superlatives convey the message that we only count when we are perfect. Since none of us can be perfect all the time, and deep down we all know that, putting someone too high up on a pedestal will have a negative effect, because they know it will be so hard to stay on top, or get on top again that they will be discouraged from even trying. If one has to be the best in order to get praised, and it’s impossible to do that every time, why even try?

Encouragement conveys faith in a person no matter how well or poorly things go. Legitimate praise can only be given when someone has done something right, though there are many people who will praise even when something has gone wrong, and this is disingenuous at best, hurtful at worst.

Encouragement is focused on a person’s effort or improvement. Praise focuses on outcome. We don’t praise people for coming in last place. The people who finish first or who are “best” get praise. However, if a person is in a swimming race, as an example, and comes in last place but shaves off time from their personal best, this is something worthy of encouragement.

Encouragement challenges us to develop our potential while praise threatens us to do what is expected. Using the swimming example again (our son has been swimming for years, so I’m familiar with this stuff), if he wins a race but his technique is compromised, the praise for winning is actually pretty hollow because we know that in the long run, it is technique that is going to bring about improvement. So, if someone is going for praise all the time, their “technique” on a lot of things won’t be good. Another example that I was guilty of in college is learning for the test, and not for the sake of learning. There are lots of people, like me, who could get top grades and hold the material in our heads only long enough to regurgitate it on a test. It would have been better had we been encouraged to learn, rather than praised for scoring well.

Encouragement can be given at any time. Success isn’t required for encouragement, as it is for praise. Encouragement has more to do with effort than with success. Some of us are incapable of “success” under many circumstances. For instance, I’ll never set a world record for running. I’m not really a runner. But I can run for exercise and others can encourage the effort to get in shape. Encouragement is all about effort and we are all capable of giving a good effort.

Encouragement frees us to be our unique selves. Praise obligates us to conform to standards set by another, or to compete with others. In order to receive praise, we have to conform to some authority, or what some authority says is praiseworthy. When someone compliments our car, that is praise. Society promotes the idea that a new expensive sports car is somehow better than an old beat-up car. So when a person buys a used beat-up car, they are not likely to receive praise from many people. However, when that person has worked hard and saved money to buy their first car, that is something to encourage. When we aren’t feeling constant pressure to conform to what society says is good, it is freeing, and encouraging in its own right.

Lord, we praise You, because it is only You who is worthy of our praise. Help me to be genuine in opportunities to encourage others. Bring others in my path who will encourage me. Help me to be patient and to see the “long game” in all that I am doing, not to strive for that which is quick and temporary but that which is solid and lasting, be that in relationships, in work and especially in faith. Amen.

Praise is like a temporary “high” that will never fully satisfy. Encouragement is more lasting!

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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.


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About author

Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “ and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”