The best employees bring something to the table that no one else can. But sometimes these talents and strengths are overlooked, underutilized, or even mistaken for weaknesses. When we don’t know each other’s strengths, we’re not maximizing the effectiveness of the conversations we can have, and we’re not making efficient use of our talent resources. Taking the time to uncover each of our strengths helps us understand why people communicate in certain ways and what information they need to make decisions. Doing so also provides us with insight into how we can adjust our own communication styles to be more effective, and it helps us get to the bottom of why we seem to butt heads with certain people, while having better synergy with others.
While at work, have you ever encountered these scenarios?
- Have you been a part of a brainstorm session where a few people seem to have all the ideas while others silently listen?
- Have you had a supervisor who constantly looks for more data and facts before making a decision on beginning a new project, while you have been ready to start the project since before you even talked to your supervisor?
- Have you had a colleague who stops meetings and goes around the room to see if anyone else has anything to say, which adds another 20 minutes to your already long meeting?
- Have you had a peer who’s always 10 steps ahead of everyone else while thinking through a project, while you’re just trying to focus on what needs to be done by the end of the day?
These are just a few examples of diverse strengths being applied in the workplace. We all think and act differently, and although certain actions may be frustrating to you, they are not necessarily bad. This is how others utilize their strengths to benefit their work, and they should not be thought of as right or wrong. In fact, the way you conduct yourself in meetings at work may be just as frustrating to others. If you don’t know where someone is coming from, or why they complete tasks the way they do, it can be infuriating.
“The people who are silent in your brainstorm session might be deliberating about what to say and how to say it.”
For instance, the people who are silent in your brainstorm session might be deliberating about what to say and how to say it. They might not talk a lot, but when they do, it is logical, well thought out, and can be something no one else has thought of before.
And that supervisor who always wants data to support their decisions? It might appear to you as if they’re holding you back from moving forward, but they’re likely working through potential pitfalls and managing risk for the success of the project. They’re concerned about doing things right (and thoroughly) the first time.
The annoying colleague who spends extra time going around the room to get feedback is making sure everyone’s opinion is heard. Doing so might make the meeting go longer (eye rolls inserted here), but what they really want is to ensure that the group is not missing any details and that all attendees feel valued and are given the chance to share their insight.
And your peer who is already 10 steps ahead? What they’re really doing is thinking about the future and what the project will look like as a whole. It’s important to them to be inspired by thinking about what could be and how what you’re working on right now will positively impact the big picture.
When we inspect the preceding scenarios with this lens, we can see how our employees, coworkers, and supervisors used their strengths to enhance the team. But when we’re living through such instances, it feels like the people we work with are going out of their way to make our job harder. In reality, they’re applying their strengths to work through things in their own way.
A strength is something that comes naturally to us and gives us the highest confidence in the outcome we produce. We all have strengths. Even if you don’t realize it, you are subconsciously acting in certain ways because of them. And although it’s great that we all have them, how can we proactively identify them for ourselves and others? How can identifying these strengths give us perspective on how we apply them? Likewise, how can we use them to better understand our colleagues? Here are some suggestions:
Look inward. It can be hard to look internally, identify what makes you unique, and see what you bring to the table. Move beyond the basic, “What are my strengths?” and ask yourself specific questions:
- What do my coworkers rely on me most for?
- During which tasks do I lose track of time?
- What am I working on right now that I’m excited about?
- What is an accomplishment I’m proud of and why?
Ask directly. When you’re trying to identify your teammates’ or employees’ strengths, reframe the questions above and ask them directly:
- “What do your coworkers rely on you most for?”
- “During which tasks do you lose track of time?”
- “What are you working on right now that you’re excited about?”
- “What is an accomplishment you’re proud of and why?”
“When we’re able to identify people using their strengths and begin appreciating them, real change can happen.”
Ask others. Another way to gain perspective on your coworkers’ strengths is to ask people who work with them on a consistent and ongoing basis. It can be the colleague that sits next to them or an employee in another department who uses them as a resource.
- “What type of work do they tend to ask to do?”
- “What energizes them?”
- “What tasks make them light up?”
- “When do they seem most engaged?”
Observe. Take time to observe others’ strengths in action. It’s not necessarily about what they’re doing, but how they’re doing it. Two people can accomplish the same task, but they might go about it in different ways. Whereas one person might gather data to make a decision, another may speak to colleagues and gather previous experiences. Look at how they’re successfully accomplishing their tasks. Don’t turn this into a National Geographic research assignment, but do it casually to observe your coworkers acting naturally.
Take an assessment, psychometric assessment, or inventory. Several assessments help us identify how and why we work the way we do. Some of the more popular ones are CliftonStrengths (Gallup), Everything DiSC (Wiley), and Character Strengths (The VIA Institute on Character). By bringing these inventories and assessments to your organization, you have made it possible for everyone to have a common language and to more easily understand each other’s strengths.
When we’re able to identify people using their strengths and begin appreciating them, real change can happen. We’ll then start to see employees looking forward to going to work, having more positive interactions with others, and coming up with innovative solutions to complex tasks.
Adapted, and reprinted with permission from Career Press, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, How to Listen and How to Be Heard by Alissa Carpenter is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at www.redwheelweiser.com or 800-423-7087.
Alissa Carpenter is the author of How to Listen and How to Be Heard: Inclusive Conversations at Work (May 11, 2020; Career Press). She is a workplace expert and owner of Everything’s Not Ok and That’s OK, where she provides training, consulting, and speaking services to organizations all over the world. You can visit Alissa online at notokthatsokcoach.com.