Once upon a time, the strengths approach wasn’t so well-known as it is today and one of the pushbacks to the approach I used to hear fairly often was about strengths being a great idea for the good times, but actually how helpful are your strengths in bad times, when you’re under pressure, in a crisis if you like? So today’s podcast relates directly to that challenge and the question – ‘how can you get the best from your strengths in a crisis?’
My name’s Dr Paul Brewerton, the strengths guy, Doctor of Psychology and Founder of Strengthscope. I podcast on Mondays to set you up for a strong week ahead, talking all things life, work and strengths and how you can get the best from each.
Strengths in a crisis? Invaluable! Whether that crisis is small-scale and short-lived or whether it’s bigger and more chronic and long-lasting, your strengths are there for you to draw on every day, for you to remember to bring them out when things are going smoothly, and (even especially) during the choppy times too. Remember that your strengths are those things that energise you and that you are great at, or have the potential to become great at – so they should serve you well whatever the weather, right? Well, the challenges in using your strengths in a crisis are twofold.
Firstly, as a human, you have less available headspace and brainpower during times of stress and pressure (which is how most people experience crisis. I acknowledge that some people experience crisis as an energising thing – my advice, find those people and draw on that energy they have when things get stress-y for you); anyway, because of the more stress and pressure and less headspace, it’s not as easy to remember to bring your strengths into play. We humans tend to get into a more negative headspace and see things in more black and white, flight and fight. So first of all, it’s not so easy to just click our fingers and call up our strengths in a moment of crisis, unless we’re smart about it.
Second point is that under pressure, our strengths (if we don’t use them intelligently) can become risks – I’m talking here about strengths in overdrive. For most people, strengths in overdrive can be the greatest risks of all, because when your strengths get overplayed, they can lead to unintended, even unnoticed, negative consequences – you know, when you’re dialed up to 10 and everyone else is moving away from you because that’s just too loud?
Except you don’t even notice because your dial at 10 feels amazing to you (because you’re hyper-energised and not so aware of other people’s reactions and responses) and it’s only later that you get told (and often you won’t get told) that you maybe overdid it a little back there. With your (please fill in gap with appropriate strength for you) Enthusiasm, Attention to detail, Concern for others, Leadership approach, Courage, Results focus, Initiative, etc.
So, how then can you get the very best from your strengths, from yourself, during a crisis? I have some tips below which address both challenges I’ve just talked about.
1. Know your strengths
Now you could ask yourself the question ‘When was I last at my best, loving what I was doing, being productive, getting good results?’ because the answer to that question is likely to lead you in the direction of which strengths you had in play in that situation.
However, without a framework of some kind to describe your strengths, it’s not so easy to name them and therefore not so easy to explore them, to call them up when you need them or to talk to others about them. So better to use an established framework for understanding your strengths. There aren’t that many out there that relate specifically to work, or which use accessible language and descriptions of strengths. I’ll let you into a secret though, Strengthscope® does.
2. Your strengths at their best
Know the conditions your strengths at their best and what that looks like for you. So if your Results focus is at its best when you have time to consider fully which goals and targets to go after, or when you’re working on a goal which you truly value and you’re excited to deliver, then that information is helpful when you want to get the best from your strengths and from yourself.
Under pressure or in a crisis, it’s going to be important to remember you at your best and what you need to have in place in order to get there, so that you can make sure you don’t get swept away by stress, so you can stay focused on what you need to get the best from yourself.
3. Strengths in overdrive
Know under what conditions your strengths have a tendency to go into overdrive. For most people, one or two strengths that they have will show an overdrive tendency and only in certain circumstances. So do the work to find that out, because crisis management will magnify any tendency like that.
If your Enthusiasm gets dialled up too loud when you feel you’re losing people’s support and the overdrive that ensues inadvertently pushes them further away, or if your Leading goes to 10 when you’re excited to reach a particular milestone or goal and you risk leaving people behind because they can’t keep up or don’t share your passion, these are good things to know. When you know your triggers, you can watch out for them coming up and you can put in place strategies to stop and think before you continue cranking up the strength dial.
4. Success by planning
Set yourself up for success by planning. When you know how to get the best from your strengths AND you know what might trigger you to dial them up too high, you can work that information into your planning. Let’s say your Enthusiasm is at its best when you give people time and space to come to their own conclusions – you put across your passion but you ask them how they feel too. But you also know that in situations where a group or a person is non-responsive, you’re likely to go overdrive to get your point home and that risks switching off your audience, then you have good info to make a plan.
So, say it’s important that you get support for a new idea – when you present this idea to your target group, plan to give enough time for Q&A, to check in on the audience’s level of engagement and how your idea may help solve their problems, remembering to modify your approach to meet their needs.
What about if you don’t get a response from the group – your trigger risk? Maybe plan to ask the group whether they need more time to consider what you’ve said, whether they need a 5 minute break, or what more they would like to hear about to help them consider their options. Now you’ve planned to get the best from your strengths in that pressure or trigger situation. You’ve thought it through, so that in the moment, you’ll have thought about the options to manage different ‘what if’ scenarios.
5. Stay aware in the moment
Under pressure or in crisis, we tend to become a bit blinkered. Psychologists call this ‘perceptual narrowing’ and it can lead to us ‘black and whiting’ situations where we believe only one or other option is available to us when in fact, there are many more. The process of planning helps to remind you of the options that you have in the crisis moment. In addition, it’s worth practicing pausing and checking in on yourself to make sure your strengths are in the best shape for any situation. So be mindful and stay aware of the people on the other end of your strengths.
That’s it, 5 tips to use your strengths well in a crisis: know your strengths, know what you need to get the best from them, know your overdrive risks and triggers, plan well and stay aware.
For more on the topics I’ve talked about today, why not try some more podcasts from my back catalogue: Season 5, episode 2 – taming the energy monster – goes deep into managing your overdrive risks. Season 7, episode 4 – managing stress and change – controlling the controllables, gives you more detail on stress…what it is and how to manage it effectively, including how to reframe well.
Thanks for your time today, I appreciate you listening. Please do like and share by any means necessary. Good luck out there in whatever crisis you’re facing, I know you can find the strength.