You know that using your strengths produces tons of benefits.
They can super-boost your energy, enhance your engagement, and drive you to higher levels of performance and life satisfaction! Learn more about how awesome your strengths are and how to identify them here.
But what about the potential dangers of strengths misuse?
As we dive deeper into intentional strengths development in this second segment, I will expose you to a new side of the strengths conversation that often is overlooked until it’s too late. Don’t become a strengths victim.
Take a moment to think about the steps it takes when you are developing a skill – like playing a musical instrument or learning a new language. You most likely start by understanding the basics notes and words, and then progress into more complex scales or conversations.
As you become more proficient and the initial excitement (or frustration!) wears off, you learn to use this new skill more or less depending on the situation and people you are with. For example, it is less likely that you will pick up a clarinet at a dinner party than a concert or break into speaking German at your neighborhood dry cleaner. And as you grow in this new skill, you learn when, where, how, and why to use it appropriately and effectively.
You should approach strengths development the same way: Determine what strengths to use in what amount given the specific circumstance. Alex Linley from the Centre of Applied Positive Psychology in the UK calls this the Golden Mean of Strengths Use – using the right strength, in the right amount, in the right way, at the right time based on situational requirements.
Since strengths are dynamic potentials that change based on context, it is not simply enough to identify and use your strengths more. You must intentionally apply them based on situational demands in order to develop them appropriately so they don’t backfire!
Developing your strengths often has related social costs and consequences. Here are some areas to note where your strengths can work against you and even potentially cause harm:
Strengths Blindness: Your strengths seem so natural that work flows effortlessly when you use them. Consequently, you may overlook your strengths because you view them as ordinary instead of recognizing them as extraordinary. Peterson and Seligman, creators of the Values in Action (VIA) Survey, share that this occurs because strengths are often so interwoven with personal values. As a result, you are more apt to consider the natural actions your strengths produce as “the right thing to do,” rather than a unique behavior pattern that is driven by your strengths. Start taking ownership of your strength’s impact and the values that drive your life!
Strengths Disappointment: We all experience failure…and it can hurt! But it stings even more when you fail in an area of perceived strength because you have much higher levels of associated optimism with a proven track record of success. When facing setbacks with your strengths, it’s normal to become more self-critical or frustrated compared to experiencing failure in an area of weakness. By predicting and preparing for this failure, you can help cognitively and emotionally minimize this disappointment and rebound even faster!
Strength Assumptions: Have you ever assumed that just because you were good at something, others must be as well? Well, you’re not alone! Psychologists Ross, Greene, and House found that individuals often overestimate the similarity of other’s actions and thoughts to their own, creating a type of false consensus bias. Check your strengths assumptions as you get to know the strengths of your family, friends, and colleagues so you can avoid potential frustration and improve your relationships as you continue developing your strengths.
Become Strengths Savvy
These three considerations are just a few things to be mindful of when applying your strengths across different situations. In my final post in this strengths series, I’ll share more about developing strengths based on three levels of proficiency, frequency, and regulation to help you become a more strengths savvy leader.
Biswas-Diener, R., Kashdan, T.B., & Minhas, G. (2011). A dynamic approach to psychological strength development and intervention. Journal of Positive Psychology.
Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: realizing strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ross, L., Greene, D., & House, P. (1977). The false consensus effect: An egocentric bias in social perception and attribution processes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 13, 179-301.