We poor college students often feel that we’re lacking in our gift-giving opportunities because our wallets are so empty. So I’d like to inform y’all of a practically free gift that can mean the world to a friend. Introducing: Intentional words.
Whether it be in verbal or written form, words can be used in some crazy encouraging ways to demonstrate love, care, empathy, and support. Years ago I had a teacher write me a note that took about thirty seconds to write. His thirty seconds, though, spoke to me in a shockingly powerful way and I read the little note over and over and over.
So how do we pack a punch into the words we share?
1. Focus on inside rather than outside. I don’t know a single person who dislikes being complimented for his or her appearance–when it’s appropriate and respectful. But if I had to chose between a “BethAnn, I love your hair!” and “BethAnn, I love your sense of adventure!” I would go with the latter. Every time. When you compliment my hair, you’re admiring some thing that I own but didn’t even have much choice over. I’m glad you like my hair; but my hair doesn’t define me. However, when you compliment my personality or my strengths, you are noticing and valuing the real me–you’re saying that you appreciate me for who I really am at heart. That is so much more powerful than complimenting my outside shell or clothing choices.
I’ve heard it said that “I appreciate you” is one of the most meaningful things one can say; and the times it’s been addressed to me, I wouldn’t deny it. This statement gets straight to the core: I appreciate you for who you are.
2. Be specific! I have a friend who says “You’re a great human.” While obviously this isn’t wrong to say, we can do so much better than that. That is so vague that it’s hard to even know what she’s respects in me; is she saying I’m morally good? Is she saying I represent the human race well? Is she saying my physical body is high-class for a human being?? Being specific can make your words go from low impact to high impact in a moment. I appreciate when my mother writes me a note, “Thanks for helping out around the house.” But I re-read the note when she says, “Thanks for helping out around the house. We really appreciate you making dinner, cleaning the bathroom, and playing with Reuben outside.” When my mother is specific, she is saying that my help is memorable, not just something she feels obligated to politely respond to. It’s hard to get too specific when appreciating someone.
3. Consider presentation. One way to share words that packs a particularly hard punch is hand-written notes. Hand-written notes are personal, easily keep-able, and easily re-readable. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate a quick note. But if that’s not your thing, that’s not an excuse. You can make your words meaningful through text, phone call, or in person. But do consider timing. If it’s 11 pm and my roommate is desperately struggling to finish a five-page paper by midnight and I stop her to tell her I love her and the way she’s so dedicated to school, it probably won’t mean half as much as if I tell her the same thing when we’re calmly sitting at a date table for dinner the next night.
4. Be genuine. Okay, so no matter what you say, it won’t be powerful unless it’s real. If I’m trying to be encouraging, so I force myself to offer compliments that aren’t sincere, it’s honestly just a waste of words.
5. A quick closing note, use names. Names are personal and show intentionality.
You may not have much money, but that’s no excuse for not using your words to make a difference. You don’t know when your words have made my day. You don’t know when your words were the encouragement that helped me through. If you have friends and family that you appreciate, what good reason do you have not to give them a powerful, intentional gift with your words? (See one good exception: When what’s right is wrong: Considering timing)
Comment! What encourages you? When was a time someone’s words were especially powerful?
Warning: compliments can go wrong; check out my previous post: Wow Mom, Dinner is actually good