Talking Strengths

I coach people at all levels in organisations and have probably heard the full range of ‘I wants…’ From I want promotion, I want to be more confident, I want to be seen as professional, I want to be more assertive, I want to work less hours and so on. Regardless of the ‘I want’ scenario, sooner or later we get around to the ‘I can’ conversation. In other words we talk about their strengths, the things that bring them energy, that they have the potential to be great at, and importantly that they enjoy doing. But if people are to progress beyond the ‘I want’ statements, they must both understand the strengths at their disposal and also how to nuance their use to maximise their chance of success.

If you engage in discussions with people around their strengths, these 6 tips may prove handy:

Nuance Strength Use

Explore the relevance of using strengths in each specific context. Remember, we may benefit from dialling our strengths use up or down according to the context or social circumstances. For example, I may be great at critical thinking but doing this in every situation will quickly irritate others!

Explore strengths impact

Consider how strengths can help us to live our values and also the impact of using our strengths on those around us. Building self-awareness on how we use our strengths and how this is perceived by, (or impacts upon), others, enables us to change our behaviour.

Treat strengths as buildable

When talking about strengths, adopt a growth mindset. Assume strengths can be built and enhanced rather than treating them as fixed and stable assets.

Build confidence and encourage stretch

Build self-efficacy and increase confidence by encouraging individuals to adopt stretch goals for using their strengths, including using them in circumstances outside their comfort zone.

Inspire action

Help individuals relate their strengths to their work context by encouraging them to generate different opportunities for using them across the business.

Don’t ignore weakness

Exploring weakness in the context of strengths in a non-judgmental manner encourages people to be open to feedback, increasing the likelihood they will be willing to take action. Sometimes a perceived weakness is in fact a misused strength. Suggest canvassing feedback from others on what they over or underdo. Discuss what signs or clues might indicate misuse of strengths. Consider how to adjust behaviour to manage this.

Biswas-Diener, R., Kashdan, T.B. and Minhas, G. (2011), A dynamic approach to psychological strength development and intervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology, Vol.6 (2) March, p106-118.

Clifton, D.O, Harter, J.K. (2003b), Investing in Strengths, Gallup

Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others.  Coventry: CAPP Press

Roche, B., Hefferon, K., (2013), ‘The assessment needs to go hand-in-hand with the debriefing’: The importance of a structured coaching debriefing in understanding and applying a positive psychology strengths assessment. International Coaching Psychology Review, March, vol 8 (1),  p20-34

Welch, D.; Grossaint, K.; Reid, K.; Walker, C.; (2014), Strengths-based leadership development: Insights from expert coaches, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Vol 66(1), Mar, 2014 pp. 20-37. Publisher: Educational Publishing Foundation;

About the Author: Una McGarvie is the founder of MindSightUK providing management & leadership coaching and development to public and private sector organisations. She is also a contributing author to ‘The effective Change Manager’s Handbook’


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