Podcast Episode 10. Listen here.
Our strengths serve us well in many situations but they don’t serve us well in all situations.
When we play our strengths too often or in situations where they don’t add benefit, they can present as weaknesses. Our strengths can also be perceived as weaknesses by others who don’t value them.
Thinking about behaviour this way can help us remove “good” and “bad” labels and decide when and how to use our strengths so they serve us well.
In my corporate work, I regularly help people examine the way they do things. I use a series of tools to help determine personality traits and preferences. All of the profiling tools point towards certain strengths and “areas of development” (the corporate world isn’t fond of weaknesses). When we identify areas of development we generally find people using their strengths where the situation requires something else. It’s a bit like going into your ‘default’ mode. You do the thing you know how to do because you know how to do it.
When you overplay a strength or you play a strength in a situation that requires something different, that strength can present as weakness. Consider the image accompanying this post. The ability to dance on point is a strength but go shopping this way and it’ll soon present as a weakness. The fact that you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. Of if you’re quick thinking and decisive, you may default to these. When people perceive you as being bossy or being a poor listener, these are products of having played your strengths.
Linking to feedback
It is often through feedback that we uncover our strengths and weaknesses and learn about how others perceive our behaviour. This weeks podcast therefore follows on from last week’s episode in which we looked at using feedback effectively.
Labels are less helpful than questions
Calling behaviours strengths or weaknesses simply applies positive labels to behaviours that would otherwise be neutral. I would argue the behaviour is neither positive nor negative and that it’s the context and perception that change how we think and talk about the things we do.
I am moody.
I am hot tempered.
You are selfish.
You are untidy.
These statements can easily become labels that discourage further thinking and encourage acceptance of a perceived limitation. What happens when you balance them against the corresponding strength?
I am moody. (I am able to express my emotions)
I am hot tempered. (I react quickly)
You are selfish (You are able to look after your needs)
You are untidy (You make clear choices about how to spend your time)
When you look at the weakness through the lens of the strength it’s easier to see why you might behave in particular ways and how this might cause more challenges than it solves. Now you’re in a position to start asking questions.
When and how are you playing your strengths? When do they work well for you? When don’t they? How do the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ situations differ from each other?
Now, instead of self-criticism or criticism from others, you’re able to explore behaviour and make decisions about what to do and how to do it in particular situations.
I find thinking this way helps me think more logically about the behaviours that come easily to me, the things I value and prioritise and the effect my behaviour has on others. It makes me less judgemental – of myself and others – and makes me feel more resilient when I encounter situations I find challenging.
Thinking about strengths and weaknesses in terms of how and when they manifest can help you think more about the situations and people involved than you do about the labels you or others use to describe your behaviour.
Rather than ending up feeling stuck and frustrated, I believe considering strengths and weaknesses in this light, ultimately builds strength, resilience and self-esteem – important elements in any ‘big happy life’.