It’s commonly perceived that the Clifton Strengthsfinder applies only to the world of business. Not so: the results can be successfully applied to ANY area of our lives. Strengthsfinder results inform us of our natural style and the methods we use to deal with the world and the situations and people we come across. Knowledge of this gives us a framework to figure out solutions and make the most of our own unique situations.
As a coaching psychologist, I have clients who routinely present with problems and goals that are not directly work related. Instead, the issue might be something about themself they would like to change: a pattern of behaviour they know doesn’t work for them, but which (like many unwanted personal traits) seems impervious to logic.
Here is an example of how knowledge of a person’s strengths was applied to change personal behaviour; in this case, a lifelong pattern of unfulfilled relating.
Alice’s life was going well: she had a job she usually liked, a good relationship, and friends.
Friends… for Alice, that meant people she had interesting conversations with, did things with, and whose company she enjoyed. With these friends, however, there was something missing, some subtle aspect she found hard to name; that she could only describe as a lack of warmth, or a ‘distance’. She had noticed that some of her friends were closer to each other than to her, but she couldn’t figure out why: she worked hard at her friendships, arranged social situations, remembered birthdays, listened to and shared with people. She had also noticed the same tendency in other relationships in her life: a respectful interesting connection, but without a lot of warmth, or depth or … ease.
Looking at her top strengths, Alice saw that most fell in the area of thinking – input, intellection, context. Alice had a good mind and could be described as something of an intellectual or academic. Her preferred and most natural mode of relating was quite cerebral. She liked to discuss topics, ideas and issues.
All of this had helped with her career. Alice’s ‘fine mind’ had seen her promoted and rewarded. But now she started to realise that it was also something of a barrier to the depth and warmth that she wanted in relationships.
One of the principles of the Strengths approach is to leverage what we do have, rather than lament what we don’t. We need to remember that the strengths sitting a little lower down our profile are still very accessible to us.
In Alice’s case she noticed that she had the strength of communication. She loved to discuss ideas, current events and big issues with other people. Thinking about these topics alone wasn’t enough – she needed to voice her thoughts in order to clarify them.
How could she apply this strength to building closer and warmer relationships with people? On consideration, the most obvious thing to her was to put words to her feelings; to tell people how she felt about them; to tell them at the right time, for example, that ‘your friendship is very important to me’.
She then turned her attention to other strengths in her top 10. These are the strategies she came up with:
Restorative: To let friends know that she liked solving problems and sorting out dilemmas. To look for opportunities to offer help when friends appeared stuck.
Arranger: To, once a month, invite friends to her house for a social occasion. (The intimacy of the home makes for a much more personal connection.)
Strategic: To deliberately and consciously ask personal questions, such as ‘how are you feeling about that?’, to take a conversation to a deeper connection rather than letting it rest at a cognitive, analytical level.
Looking at these strategies was satisfying to Alice. They felt very ‘do-able’ and in line with her personal style. They didn’t feel awkward, as if they would work for someone else but not for her.
It wasn’t that she couldn’t have done these actions earlier, but it simply hadn’t occurred to her to do so – she had been so caught up in the interesting intellectual discussions she’d been having.
Drawing on strengths a little lower in her profile didn’t make Alice someone she was not; it made her more of who she was already. Her great thinking strengths were further enhanced by a depth and care for others that made people really want to be around her. She had developed the not-so-common quality of being smart and warm at the same time.