What do you think you’re good at? A lot of people don’t really know, let along how and when they apply their strengths. And reading some articles about strengths it would be understandable if you came away thinking that strengths are always good to use! I certainly have. There tends to be an indirect message that it’s good to maximise strengths.
So what do strength traps look like? I’m going to concentrate on three types of traps – there could easily be more! Remember these traps don’t broadcast themselves, or have a thought-nudger ‘be careful now, a strength trap is just about to be released’.
- a step too far: I think the most obvious one is when a person takes a strength too far – for instance, perseverance to stubborn, or detail orientation to over-perfectionist.
- out of balance: this is when your strength is perceived as a limitation – for instance, keeping your composure can be seen as you being distant or inauthentic; working well with upper management is interpreted as overly political.
- flip: in some contexts or relationships you may find you flip into the strength’s absence or opposite – for example, if your strength is curiosity, then the absence of this strength could be disinterest, while the opposite is boredom (and a step too far would be nosiness). Honesty could turn into phoniness (absence) or deceit (opposite) – and a step too far righteousness.
It is so easy to fall into one of these traps, very innocently too. And some behaviours linked to certain strengths may be interpreted differently depending on who is behaving in that way, in what circumstances and how often. For instance,
– quite often women are ‘accused’ of being aggressive, when the same behaviour by a man would be seen as assertive
– one person has an idea that is new yet accepted and so is called creative, while another person has an idea that is new yet not understood and so is called eccentric
– an interviewer asking the same question over and over again because the person asked the question hasn’t actually answered it is seen as persevering, while someone repeating the same information over and over again may be perceived as pushy and/or rude
Notice how much different people’s thinking affect how the behaviour is interpreted. This influences what I suggest are two possible avenues to take regarding these traps:
- become more alert to them – self awareness is key. If you don’t realise you have fallen into a trap, what chance have you got? One coach supervisor said to me (words to this effect) “it’s not making a mistake that what matters, it’s what you do about it”. If you don’t even know you’ve made a mis-take, you can’t know whether you need to do anything to rectify it.
- reflect on your thinking – your thinking creates your reality (no-one else’s), which then has an impact on your behaviour. Notice your thinking and remember that whatever you’re thinking there will inevitably be another way to consider it!
State of mind comes into play. When you are in a good state of mind you have a good chance that your mind will be quiet enough for you to notice insight you have (and such an insight can lead to new thinking and, with any effort, new behaviour). If your brain is unsettled and/or working at top revs, wait until you are in a calmer place – you are far more likely to have and notice your insights.