Strengths-Spotting

Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays! 

We’re talking about strengths. 

A quick recap of last week before we continue.

Last week, we examined Aristotle’s “Golden Mean” and searched for the desirable average between two extremes: deficiency and excess (1). Why? Because context matters and a strength is only a strength when it's applied well (2). Then, we explored some challenges that arise when using our strengths in action including: overuse, “hot buttons”, underuse, and strengths blindness. 

Understanding our strengths and applying them appropriately is a ongoing process. So, last week, I invited you on a journey towards your own golden mean in an effort to circumvent unintended, undesirable negative effects that can arise when strengths are not applied to their best use.

I hope you accepted my invitation! If so, what did you discover? Is there a strength that you tend to overuse? One that is such a deep value it has become a "hot button"? One that you would like to utilize more in a particular domain? Or one that you have come to rely on and use so regularly that you didn’t see it as a strength at all?

I decided to focus on applying my strength of Forgiveness towards myself - a domain where I tend to underuse it. I find it natural and energizing to forgive others, but tend to be much harder on myself. So, this past week, I tried a couple of new ways to use Forgiveness personally and soften my inner critic. I’m glad I did. It opened a little space for awareness and a little grace for times when I am either not at my best or make a mistake. I am by no means finished with this process, but I am one step closer to a golden mean. What about you?

This week, I want to talk about “strengths-spotting” or how to identify strength in others (3)!

Research suggests that that in the same way that we are able to self-identify strengths, knowledgeable peers are able to observe and accurately assess character strengths in others (4). This is great news! It means that we have the ability to learn how to identify strengths in others - a process known as “strengths-spotting” (3).

Remember, our strengths represent our values and are part of who we are at our best.

How do you see those around you?

We all need to feel seen, heard, and valued. It matters. It impacts our relationships. Every one of them. Think about it. Be it a partner, friend, co-worker, parent, child, student, teacher, your bus driver or a new acquaintance, we all like to feel understood, validated, and cared for. We want to feel seen. We want to matter. When we show understanding, validation, and care to others, we build the trust and intimacy in relationships that is key to positive outcomes in relationships (5). 

Just because we value someone, doesn't mean that they feel valued. How do you show care and appreciation? Our actions help others perceive our support. When we share ourselves in a relationship, we give the other person an opportunity support us. It’s a bid to obtain understanding, validation, and caring. The reverse is also true. When someone is sharing their story with you, you have been given an opportunity to provide understanding, validation, and care (5). So, listen up and show the support you feel! 

There are many ways to show your support, and one way you can help others feel supported is through strengths-spotting (3). Showing awareness of others at their best by acknowledging and appreciating their strengths can help you build a positive relationships. With practice, this can become a skill that allows you to build trust and intimacy in the relationships you choose to develop. And that can be helpful in a multitude of situations!

Follow These Four Steps:

Step One: Attend to the Good Stuff.

Observe. Be curious. Try to catch others at their best! It’s a great way to learn about someone. Ask yourself who are they at their best? What do they value? Obviously, you will be better equipped to answer these questions with someone you know well, but you may be surprised by just how much you see in a short interaction with someone new when you are looking for it! 

Step Two: Identify Their Strength(s).

Look at the VIA’s list of 24 character strengths (6). What pops out? What strengths aligns with what you have observed? What strength(s) do you see at play in their actions?

Step Three: Find Evidence.

How do they use their strength(s) in action? How has this strength positively impacted your relationship with them? Take the time to find examples.

Step Four: Express your appreciation.

This is where the magic happens. Express your appreciation for the other person’s strength(s). It sounds easy, but it may prove challenging. Many of us are not practiced at thinking about our own strengths, let alone highlighting someone else’s. It may feel awkward or a bit uncomfortable to give this kind of positive feedback. Further, you may sense that it’s difficult for the other person to receive your appreciation. 

If this is the case, you are not alone! 

Like any skill, strengths-spotting gets easier with practice. Think small. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. A genuine compliment is a great place to start.

Compliments come in a variety of forms and can be delivered in a variety of ways. They can be verbal or written, short or extended, planned or spontaneous, anonymous, private or public... If you feel comfortable, share your compliment in front of someone else. At work, this may look like giving or sharing credit for something that may otherwise go unnoticed. At home, it could be showing appreciation for a routine action of your partner in front of your kids.

Using personal language can be helpful. Don’t feel tied to the VIA’s language. Saying “I really appreciate your appreciation for beauty and excellence.” for instance, sounds a bit stilted and may not be fully understood by the other person if they aren’t familiar with the VIA. So, try something else like, “I really like how you find beauty in the world around you.”

Then, add an example. “For instance, last week when we were walking in the park, you showed me that street artist you enjoyed. Remember? You opened my eyes to something beautiful that I would have missed otherwise, and I really appreciate it.”

Hint: Be specific and genuine. 

Folks tend to know when you are aren’t being sincere. So, it’s not helpful to compliment someone when you don’t mean it. Hunt for the good stuff!

This week, I invite you to go strength-spotting! Pick a person that you would like to share appreciation for and take the time to pay attention. Attend to the good stuff, identify their strength(s), find evidence, and express your appreciation in a way that feels authentic to you. 

I hope you enjoy strengths-spotting and look forward to seeing you here again next Monday as we begin to wrap up our converstaion about strengths!

As always, gratitude for the expertise of the following resources.

References

1. Crisp R. (Ed.). Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics. Cambridge University Press; 2014.

2. Biswas-Diener R, Kashdan T, Minhas G. A dynamic approach to psychological strength development and intervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2011; 6(2), 106-118.

3. Niemiec R. VIA character strengths: Research and practice (The first 10 years). In H. H. Knoop & A. Delle Fave (Eds.), Well-being and cultures: Perspectives on positive psychology (pp. 11-30). New York: Springer; 2013.

4. Buschor C, Proyer R, Ruch W. Self-and peer-rated character strengths: How do they relate to satisfaction with life and orientations to happiness?. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2013; 8(2), 116-127.

5. Reis H, Shaver P. Intimacy as an interpersonal process. Handbook of personal relationships, 24(3), 367-389. New York: Wiley; 1988.

6. Peterson C, Seligman M. Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification (Vol 1). Oxford University Press; 2004.

  • Special thanks to the VIA Pro Practitioner Guide, 2011.