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Michelle McQuaid Can you improve your strengths?

Can You Improve Your Strengths?

BY Michelle McQuaid

Have you ever found that your strengths – those things you like doing and are good at – have gotten you into trouble at work? Perhaps, you were really excited about a new opportunity, but nobody else seemed to feel quite the same way. Or maybe, despite putting in your best work on a project, your efforts just kept misfiring. Or, did you work so hard on something you burnt yourself out entirely?

If you’re not nodding your head by now, you should be. You see our strengths have what researchers call a “shadow side” that appears when we overplay them in different situations.

So how can you use your strengths at work so they’re “just right”? After all, you don’t want to overplay a strength like “love” or you could find yourself fired for it!

Do You Understand Your Strengths?

Developing your strengths has been found to help you feel happier, more engaged, have a greater sense of meaning and higher levels of productivity at work. One of the most popular tools to help you understand your strengths is the free VIA Survey, which helps you to identify your character strengths – the capacities within you for thinking, feeling and behaving in ways that can bring benefits to yourself and others.

“Character strengths are positive traits within us that we can learn to grow and develop and improve, even though they are quite stable over time,” explains Dr. Ryan Niemiec, Education Director at the VIA Institute.

“Unfortunately many cultures have a strong negativity bias making us accustomed to looking for problems and trying to overcome them – and sometimes to ruminate and even wallow in them – but we’re generally not as developed when it comes to applying the same kind of mental rigor to what is best in us,” he says.

Researchers are finding that when people are taught to develop, explore and apply their character strengths there are considerable benefits for the way we go about our work. When we develop a general awareness of our strengths; explore ways to mindfully think about their development and; then apply them by setting goals and taking action, we feel more engaged, confident and positive about our work.

Having taught these strengths skills to thousands of people around the world, in my experience there are three particular challenges you should understand before you start trying to put your strengths to work. In this episode of Chelle McQuaid TV, I ask Ryan about the best ways to ensure developing our strengths produces positive outcomes in our careers.

The 3 Things You Should Know About Developing Your Strengths

The best way to think about each of your character strengths is that they operate along a continuum. At one end you underplay your strengths. At the other end you overplay your strengths. But in the middle you’ll find the “golden mean” of your strengths, where you’re able to apply them effectively in different situations to create your desired results.

So before you rush out and simply start “using” your strengths more at work, this continuum means there are three important nuances you should be aware of:

  • Underplaying Your Strengths – Many of us suffer from a deep level of strengths blindness and as a result we tend to underuse our strengths at work. Can you name your top five strengths? If you can’t, start by taking the free, ten-minute VIA Survey at When you’ve got your results, you can discover how your unique strengths are valued at work by thinking back on the high-point moments in your career. Those times when you’ve been really engaged, energized and enjoying what you were doing. This will help you to bring the generic strength descriptions to life, and see how a strength like “love” is valued and applied effectively in your organization.
  • Overplaying Your Strengths – We’re prone to overplaying our strengths when we’re passionate and excited about using them in our work. For example, when we overplay a strength like hope we can see so many opportunities to make great things happen and ways to achieve this that we tend to over-extend and over-commit ourselves. You may even find many of the “weaknesses” your boss has asked you to improve, are actually strengths you’re overplaying and just need to dial down. Be mindful of when your strengths are creating difficulties for you at work and start to explore ways you can dial them up or dial them down in different situations to create the outcomes you want.
  • Colliding With Others – Your strengths may sometimes collide with the strengths of other colleagues. For example, someone who is high in creativity and always coming up with new ideas and ways to move forward, may find it challenging to work with a colleague who is high in prudence and excels at being conscientious and sticking with the plan to deliver short and long–term goals. When you’re struggling in your work relationships, take a step back and see if you can spot the other persons’ strengths – those times where they’re really engaged, energized and enjoying their work. Could their strengths be colliding with yours? Can you have a conversation about how to work together better to bring out the best in each of you?

Finding ways to develop my strengths at work helped turned jobs I loathed into jobs I enjoyed, earned me promotions and pay rises I never asked for and gave me the energy and confidence to eventually start my own business. However, what turned an interesting tool, into an intelligent and effective tool to deliver these results, was the application of these three nuances each day in the ways I developed my strengths.

How could putting your strengths to work each day unleash new possibilities for your career? To help you get started grab a copy of my free e-book which includes a detailed listing of all 24 character strengths and ways you can effectively develop them at work.

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