When Saying Good Luck is a Mistake

A recent conversation provides insight into the art of providing support to those with whom you have close relationships.  And how the smallest of moments can matter so much.  It’s no secret that people need confidence and the support of others to have success. But where does the confidence come from? And what does support look like? Here is one example.

The scene is Aaron dropping by to say good morning to Margie in her office.

Aaron peeks his head in the door and says, “Good morning, I have come by to say hi, but you look really busy.”

“Good morning and thanks for coming by,” replies Margie, “this is my busy season, and of course, I am managing literally a hundred small minute details for the sales meetings.”

“You are ready to juggle the many balls—been practicing for years,” says Aaron.

Margie jokingly, responds “yeah, but I would rather be calling the shots than juggling. But beggars can’t be choosers.” Aaron laughs and nods his head agreeably.  Margie continues, “thanks though, for the vote of confidence!”

Aaron smilingly replies as he moves to leave the office, “You are welcome. I’ll let you get back to work. I’ll check-in on you later in the day.”

So where’s the support?  It’s in my second comment.  For a fleeting moment, I almost responded to Margie with, “Good Luck on your juggling, I’ll let you get back to work. Talk to you later in the day.” What a disaster this comment would have been. Disaster, not in the sense of sending Margie off a cliff, but disaster in that I would have blown an opportunity to provide the support I intended to convey to my friend.

The confidence Margie speaks about had several dimensions:

  1. encouragement that comes from the confirmation that I have faith in her success
  2. appreciation that comes from my recognizing her experience as preparing her to achieve the task ahead
  3. assurance that comes from a colleague making an informed positive skill assessment—a precursor to trust and seeking help.

But what if I had said, “Good Luck,” what would this comment have conveyed?

  1. you are alone in your efforts
  2. your skills are not enough, something else has to be on your side

Over time, the subtle difference between these messages makes a major difference in the mindset of the recipient. And developing a mindset that is the goal of support—preparing someone’s mindset to approach challenges with energy, conviction, and the willingness to try new steps. Contrary to many opinions, support is not saying, good luck, I feel you, or any of the unintentionally hurtful messages designed to give encouragement or convey empathy.

So, what’s the missing ingredient in the mass of opinions—the implied and sometimes direct link from cause to effect.  In my message, I directly linked Margie’s experiences to my perception of why she was prepared for the day’s activities. If I had said good luck, there would have been no direct link, and worse, an implication that I believed something besides Margie’s skill was needed to succeed.

Therefore when interacting with anyone I want to support I make every attempt to identify why I believe they can succeed at their next task. And if they don’t believe my reasons, it’s my responsibility to show them why I have faith. That’s how you give support—provide a rationale for cause and effect, and, when necessary, take actions to prove your beliefs correct.

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