Hi, so in this podcast, I’d like to talk about some common challenges for people who become familiar with the strengths approach and who start to use it in their organisations, with their clients or in their lives. These are things that we all face in one way or another, they’re all completely normal, they all have value and there are practical steps you can take to make the most of each one. These are terms that you won’t necessarily have come across before but we talk about them at Strengthscope and if you’d like to too, then be my guest. In this podcast, then, I’m going to talk about strengths awe, strengths envy and strengths denial.
My name’s Dr Paul Brewerton, the strengths guy, and each week I publish a podcast on life, work or strengths, or some combination of those three. This week’s podcast is most definitely focused on strengths but it relates to all three categories, because strengths are for life, and work, not just for Christmas.
What is strengths awe?
So first of all, what do I mean by strengths awe – well this is the easiest one to get the best from. Strengths awe is seeing someone else using a strength awesomely and being blown away with how easily and naturally and how effectively they use it. Our strengths assessment Strengthscope has 24 strengths so I’ll use some examples here. Let’s take Relationship building as a strength.
This can play out in all sorts of ways but I am in awe when I see someone with this strength loving meeting new people in a room full of strangers, or just effortlessly chatting away and finding out all kinds of things about someone they’ve only just met, or connecting people (because often people with Relationship building will be super well-connected and known for it, so they’re known as someone who always knows someone and they LOVE introducing people to each other).
So this is me in strengths awe, jaw dropped, head to one side just wondering ‘how on earth…’ and totally amazed. Other notables for me are Emotional control – when someone is energised by holding onto their emotions and staying really focused and professional even in high tension situations. And also Efficiency – the strength of planning and enjoying the creation and delivery of a plan. My brain just doesn’t function in that way; I can make it do that stuff kind of when I really have to but it drains me and I’m not particularly good at it either. So when I see people taking control of the world around them by organising things neatly into schedules and planners, again I am in awe.
I think it’s safe to say that I’m in awe of others’ strengths a LOT. And that’s all good. You’ll have those moments too when you’ll see someone doing something outstanding and just be amazed. But what can you do usefully with all that awe – well I would recommend that you TELL the person about what you’ve seen, how it blew you away or impressed you, and why. They might be a bit embarrassed or surprised because if you’re telling them about a strength of theirs, chances are they won’t have given it a second thought because it will be so natural and well-practiced for them. Which is all the more reason to tell them why you’ve seen it as so powerful. OK, so strength awe, as long as you get used to telling people when you’re having a moment…ticked.
But what happens when strengths awe goes a bit too far, or if you start to wish that you could do that thing you just saw as well as they could, and start beating yourself up about why you can’t – well now you’re in the grip of green-eyed strengths envy. Strengths envy is when you covet someone else’s strength and wish you had it. It’s totally understandable and normal, and again, we all do it from time to time. But, it’s something to try and keep in check or it can turn in on itself and become quite a negative response in ourselves to seeing something really positive in someone else.
It’s also related to the negativity bias, which we’ve all been socialised into and I published a whole podcast on way back at Season 1, episode 2. Negativity bias primes us to always see the glass half full and find negatives even in positives. One problem with strengths envy is that it’s less likely that we would tell the person who we’ve seen using the strength that we really admire it, instead we’re more likely to keep it to ourselves for fear of undermining our sense of self-esteem. And that’s a shame because the person whose strength we’re envious of should really know how we impressed we are with it.
Another problem with strengths envy is that we can sometimes get fixated on what we don’t have and that can take away from what we do have, so we burn a lot of energy unnecessarily when there’s actually a better solution staring us right in the face. Well several actually – here’s a couple. So the first thing to do with strengths envy: if you feel that you could usefully use the other person’s strength is to ask if you can borrow it, if you can get their help with something that you find difficult or draining because you’ve seen how great they are at it – you both win here right – they get to use their strength and you get some of that awesomeness.
Another way to deal with strengths envy is to get to know the strengths that you DO have – those qualities that really energise you and drive your performance – and point those towards the thing you feel that you lack. Let me give you an example. So I already mentioned my awe of the Efficiency (or planning) strength. Well getting someone’s help on a plan or putting together a new process or method is option number 1 for me, which I do pretty regularly. Secondly, when I do need to plan and I can’t get anyone else’s help, I need to bring my strengths into action – Decisiveness to make decisions about how a project might fit together logically, Collaboration because I’m probably going to be creating the plan for someone else’s benefit, so I can imagine that really I’m doing it for them and Strategic mindedness so that I can start with the big important bits of the plan and then fill in the details (because the detailed bits are the parts that drain me most). Oh and I also need to have a purpose or reason behind doing the thing I’m doing which really help to energise it. So in this case, it might be because it’s important for my team to have the plan, or because it’s going to bring an idea to life practically or whatever. But the purpose should help me to energise the thing that I’m not doing because I feel I’m not good at it. So rather than strengths envy, borrow it, or use the strengths you do have to get the outcome you’re looking for.
Finally, on to strengths denial – this can actually happen when you give feedback to someone else about their strengths. They might (and often do) just shrug off your positive words and claim it’s nothing really and everyone can do that, when clearly in fact you just told them that you can’t do that thing, at least not like they did! But when strengths denial is happening to you, it can lead you to miss out on some of the most positive opportunities for life, work and your own development. I’ve seen this happen a lot, particularly with strengths like Common sense, Efficiency, Detail orientation; but it can happen with any strength. And it sounds something like this: ‘Well it’s not a very exciting strength to have, is it, I mean there are much sexier ones, in fact I almost wish I didn’t have it, it’s very geeky and dull’ or other denialist type words.
But the thing is that ALL strengths have value – if you love using them AND you get good at it, they can create big value. And if you acknowledge and accept a strength that you have and decide that it’s something you want to get even better at using, so much the better, you’ve just opened the door to a whole world of fun and energy-filled development and growth where you can become a way better version of you by doing more of the things that you already do naturally but that you haven’t focused on developing until now because ‘it ain’t broke’. To avoid strengths denial then, you need to listen to others’ feedback, take that feedback seriously, and consider carefully what you can do to get even more from the strengths you have. There are so many ways of using and developing your strengths more, IF you’re willing to accept them as talents that not everyone has and that other people really value.
Strengths awe, strengths envy and strengths denial – turn them to your advantage, take action to get the most from them – and you will get more and more from the strengths that you have and will worry a little less about those that you don’t. With strengths awe – tell them. With strengths envy – find another way to get it. And with strengths denial – own that strength, someone out there will love it! Until next time strengths fans, wishing you a strong week.