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Can You Spot Others' Strengths?

Can You Spot Others’ Strengths?

BY Michelle McQuaid

When was the last time you walked into a meeting with a colleague with the deliberate intention of spotting their strengths? If the answer doesn’t roll off the tip of your tongue, don’t feel bad.

The truth is while it’s relatively easy to spot the worst in others, finding the best in people and ways you can bring more of this out in their work isn’t something most of us naturally excel at.

Scientists have long understood that while we all share a deep psychological need to be respected, valued and appreciated, the negativity bias hardwired into our brain makes us much better at spotting what we don’t like about people, rather than their strengths.

So is there a way you can retrain your brain to help you see the best in others?

Why is it worth spotting strengths in others?

Well to be honest here the science is still catching up.

There is a growing evidence base that when leaders focus on spotting and appreciating the strengths – rather than the weaknesses – of their employees, people perform better.

But what does this mean for people we’re not leading?

I saw the power of this spotting strengths in others first hand, when I was lucky enough to spend more than a decade working alongside a man named Jim Stynes.  Jim was an Irishman who came to Australia to play professional football and along the way donated his time to help thousands of teenagers find the confidence to achieve.

He was a master at looking for the strengths in others and then telling them what he saw and in this episode of Chelle McQuaid TV I’ll share his secret.

How can you start spotting strengths in other people at work?

If like me you’re not as proficient as Jim was at seeing people’s strengths, try these three simple steps to spotting strengths in others.

Firstly, before you head into your next meeting or conversation at work remind yourself to look for the best in the people you’ll be seeing.

As things get underway look for the moments where they’re more engaged, energized and enjoying what they’re talking about or doing. Often their bodies will literally start to lean in to the conversation, the body language might become more animated and the tone of voice and pace of speech tend to be uplifted. You’ll find more tips on spotting strengths here from Dr. Alex Linley.

Secondly, as you leave the meeting or conversation use the cheat sheet below of VIA Character Strengths to help you spot which strengths they may have been using. Again think back to those moments when they lit up, which strengths might have been in action.


Finally, follow up your interaction with a call or a note of thanks for their time and include a little appreciation for the strengths you saw in play.

For example if you think their strength might be curiosity you might say: “Thanks for taking the time to meet today, I really valued the questions you were asking to help us get a better outcome on this project.”

As I’ve experimented with this in my own relationships at work I’ve discovered more important than actually getting the strength right every time, is showing up with the willingness to look for strengths and offer appreciative feedback. It takes only a moment of my time and it’s been instrumental in improving even my most difficult relationships.

Want more help on spotting strengths in others? Read more here from Dr. Alex Linley on strength spotting or watch this short video with with Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener.

What happens when you spot strengths in others?

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