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Playing to your Personal Strengths

One of the most frequent topics in my coaching is that of conflict. The type of interpersonal conflict that can, for no apparent reason (at least to the warring parties), spring up.  Part of this has led me to consider how we deploy our personal strengths and whether over-use of these, in certain circumstances, can tip them over into becoming weaknesses.

We develop behaviours that, when used to good effect, over time, become our preferred way of doing things.  We consider them as our personal strengths.  However, the more we use them and the more success we have with their use then the more we can slip into auto-pilot mode, with an expectation that their use will always produce success.  In this way, we sometimes overlook the fact that using a particular personal strength may be inappropriate to the context or situation in which we find ourselves.  

It is essential for us to consider the context in which we apply our strengths.  Where the context requires imaginative, large-scale thinking there is less need for depth and detail.  If depth and detail is one of our strengths we need to apply it less vigorously – to turn down the volume as it were.  Where wide ownership of a strategy or project is necessary there is both a need to listen to, and to accommodate, a range of ideas and suggestions from others, as well as describing a compelling vision of our own.  However, passionate and committed can soon slip towards, and be perceived as, dictatorial.

We all possess a range of strengths and positive qualities. Where they are well-embedded in our behaviour patterns this can lead us to holding fairly consistent expectations about how others will respond when we use our strengths.  When others do not respond in accordance with these expectations we get conflict.  For example, if we consider that the use of persuasion and influence is one of our strengths, based on past responses, then we begin to expect that we will always get a positive result. We overlook the possibility that our attempts to influence may be seen by others as pressurising or trying to ride, rough-shod, over them.

Here are some examples of strengths and how they may be perceived:

Self-confidence or Arrogance; Not listening; Full of oneself

Good organisation or Controlling

Persuasive; Influential or Pressurising; Riding rough-shod over people

Quick-acting or Rash; Excess Risk-taking

Imaginative; Creative or Dreamer; Impractical

Practical or Unimaginative; Pedestrian

Self-contained; self-sufficient or Cold; Aloof

Analytical or Nit-picking; Pedantic

Thorough or Obsessive

Methodical and orderly or Rigid; Compulsive; Inflexible

Economical or Mean; Stingy

Is it worth taking another look at any relationships that you find challenging? Consider how you could describe the behaviour of the other person(s) in a more positive light. Think about how your own strengths, when applied, might appear to some as negative traits.  Then think about the context – has it been appropriate for you to deploy your strengths to the extent that you have?  Do you need to turn the volume down a little? Is it possible that you have been over-playing some of your own strengths to the detriment of the relationship?

First published in the Health Service Journal