You know how sometimes you watch people at work, or outside of work and you see how effortlessly they seem to be doing something: they could be socialising, or organising an event, or meticulously checking through something, or pushing themselves to the next level of performance.
The thing is, until someone notices this and mentions it to them, or more likely several people mention it, that person, who it seems obvious to you is awesome at that thing, may not realise themselves that what they’re doing marks them out and makes them different. These are hidden strengths – things you didn’t even realise you were good at, or could be good at but that you do naturally.
What are strengths?
But let’s go back to hidden strengths. First of all, what do I mean by strengths? Well the definition I’m using, similarly to a lot of people who work in the field of positive psychology, is that strengths are qualities that energise you and that you are great at, or have the potential to become great at. They tend to be things that come naturally for you, that simply flow from you and, if you’re aware of them, you may grow to enjoy and even love using them.
But, we’re surrounded by this negativity bias everywhere in society, we’re socialised and parented to focus on what’s wrong and not on what’s right…leading us to agonise over low scores and grades at school and college and pretty much ignore what we’re more naturally successful at. And so over time, because of our over-focus on the negatives and the weaknesses and the flaws and the deficits, we get good at identifying the bad stuff but not so good at pinpointing, or valuing and appreciating, the gifts and talents and strengths that make us stand out…positively…in the world.
Think about it, when you’ve become aware of being good at something, it’s probably not because you’ve noticed but because other people have said something to you. Oh yes and by the way, another thing we get good at as we’re developing (and we’re always developing right) is getting “forensic” in considering the negative feedback we get and how we can fix whatever we’re being told is wrong, but at the same time, almost dismissing positive feedback, out of humility or embarrassment or just lack of practice.
And the net result of all this is that we’re not good at seeing, valuing, exploring or exploiting our own strengths – which is what keeps those strengths hidden, sometimes for life. So we never get to get to really focus on those qualities and develop them to reach their potential, they just get an outing every now and again.
So how can we get our strengths out in the open – how can we find them in the first place, so that we can start that process of valuing and owning those qualities that make us positively different and which could potentially define the difference we make in the world and in our careers?
The best thing to do is start with strength spotting – strengths spotting is the art of observing others and noticing when they get into that natural state of ‘flow’, when they seem energised, excited, positive, and proficient at something. Like they are already good at it, or you sense that there’s the potential for them to become really good at it.
So if you’ve noticed that in someone, the first thing to do is tell them, and then check in with them on how the doing of the thing they were doing actually made them feel. Did they enjoy it, did it come naturally, were they aware how good they were or how natural they were at it? Did they know how different it was and how you haven’t seen anyone else doing that thing quite the way they were.
This information genuinely comes as a shock and surprise (albeit a nice one) to most people. But because we’re wired to the negative and to embarrassment and modesty at the first sign of positive feedback, even though we may politely appreciate what’s being offered to us, most times we’re prone to putting up emotional and psychological barriers to what the other person has said.
It took me years to accept that I was good at presenting and facilitating a group, at telling stories to people, that I could motivate people, that I could spot strengths in others actually, even though I was given that feedback for the first time about 15 years ago and have now built a business that’s designed to do exactly that!
So if you’re going to really get through to someone that what you’re seeing in them may well be evidence of something special, something that makes them stand out, then one time feedback isn’t going to cut it, you’re going to have to keep going, and invite others to weigh in as well. That way, the person whose strengths you’ve spotted has the best possible chance of seeing what you see and…well, starting to own that strength, rather than keeping it hidden, so that it can become something that they are known for, and that they are comfortable being known for.
So that’s everyone else covered – you’ve spotted their strengths, you’ve told them, others have told them, they’ve finally listened and now they’re doing something about it, maybe talking to their manager about how they could bring those strengths more to their role or career, or taking time to get better in areas that they enjoy so they can really fulfil that strength potential. Which is great. Your work is done, right?
Wrong! What about you? How are you going to find your hidden strengths. So, there are three ways. At least.
How to find your hidden strengths
- One way is getting good at noticing when you are really in flow and enjoying a task or activity and what that might be telling you about a strength or strengths that you might be using. So that needs you to key into your emotional and energetic state and take a read on it at different points, when you’re doing different things. Is this task draining you? Not a strength. Is it getting you into more of a flow state where you feel stretched but somehow up to the challenge? Might be a strength or two in play.
- A second method is reflecting on when you were a kid and what you were naturally drawn towards, what you were picked for during breaks, what teachers said, just going back over evidence of how you felt and the feedback you were getting. I mentioned it taking years before I started to own being good at working with audiences. So how did I miss this? I wrote and directed and performed in my own play at school when I was 8 (which was probably rubbish, ‘cute’ at best, but I still did it and no one asked me to). I was entered into public speaking events by the age of 11. I now speak to, and facilitate, groups all the time. Oh and and I’m speaking to you now! What more evidence do I need? Well apparently I haven’t EVEN NOW fully noticed or valued or appreciated or internalised this point of difference! But at least I’m on the journey.
- A third method is the exact same one as I mentioned you can use to spot strengths in others – well the flip of it anyway…you ask people who know you and whose opinion you value…what do they value you for, what do they see as being different, better, more natural, in what you do compared to other people. Where do they see your potential and your strengths? Ask them and keep asking because it won’t be easy to ask, or to hear it the first few times, but it’s worth getting used to, if you’re going to get those hidden strengths out in the open. So there’s three ideas for you for starters.