Too much or too little of your strengths? How to find the balance?
Character strengths are a little like chocolate. Eaten in a balanced way, it can be a well-deserved treat. But over eat and all the pleasure disappears. Under-eat and you’re left disappointed.
Similarly, your character strengths need to be demonstrated in a balanced way. Too much and you’ll destroy the relationship, too little will leave you feeling uninvolved.
Character strengths are the qualities and virtues that enable you to thrive. They are the way you think, act and feel and you exhibit these in different amounts. This is what makes you unique. Focusing on the things you are good at, is a positive approach that we can all benefit from. This builds our resilience in a time where life is crazy – busy with demands on our time like never experienced by previous generations.
There are 24 Character Strengths which can be drawn upon in different degrees. Your strengths might be kindness, love, perseverance, fairness or zest. In fact, you generally have five signature strengths that you utilise when being your natural self. It’s almost unconscious. Other strengths are curiosity, perspective, or creativity. What are your strengths?
When used in the right amounts, your strengths improve your enjoyment of work and overall levels of happiness.
Sometimes, however, we can draw too strongly on a strength, or even too little. Like anything in life (think chocolate!) balance is the key to sustained enjoyment or satisfaction and success.
Let’s take the strength of honesty, and imagine it on a continuum where too much honesty becomes overuse (like being outspoken) and too little is underuse (not saying how you really feel). The middle area is the “optimal zone” where the strength is expressed in just the right amount to be effective in a particular situation.
Let me give you an example of what overuse and underuse can look like at work. My top strength is Honesty which can be both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing because my colleagues value that with me, what they see is what they get and I will give them the feedback and praise that they genuinely deserve. This is when I am expressing honesty from the middle of the continuum or optimal zone. Everyone is happy.
Why can it also be a curse? Because sometimes, when under pressure, tired or cranky, I can overuse my honesty, forget my filter and come across as blunt. So, last week when my colleague forgot to bring her resources which she had promised for our group activity, I snapped. “Now the session is ruined. We can’t proceed without the resources. I texted you a reminder. You are always so unreliable.” I said. Now even though this was honestly what I was thinking, it does nothing to sustain a secure relationship from which we can both thrive.
I had damaged the relationship with my colleague by overusing my honesty in that situation.
What would an underuse of honesty look like in that situation? The interaction would probably have gone a little like this “That’s fine, the activity will still be effective without it. It doesn’t matter,” when I really know that not to be true.
Finding the Optimal Zone
So how do you know what the optimal zone looks like? In my experience, it helps to pay attention to two things:
- Your feelings post interaction.
“I wish I didn’t say that. I came on too strongly and I regret that” indicates Overuse
Whilst “I am so happy with how that went” indicates you were in the Optimal Zone.
- How the other person reacts.
“I can see I offended my colleague. They look really disheartened.” indicates overuse
Whilst, the next reflection is a signal you were in the optimal zone,
“My colleague appreciated that open discussion and they are motivated with an action plan to take away.”
Taking a moment to reflect on an interaction will provide you with the clues to assess what the right balance of your strengths look like. The balanced expression should leave all parties feeling satisfied, comfortable and valued.
It can be difficult to walk the fine line between over and under use of our strengths. After all, a strength is a behaviour that comes naturally to you. Most of the time you are unaware of it. But if you focus on the interaction between you and others, you’ll soon find the balance. This will create a more cohesive and engaged team.
And then, you’ll deserve more chocolate!
About the author: Nicole is an organisational psychologist who believes that when people understand their strengths, capabilities and motivators, they can unleash all their brilliance to perform at the highest level and create high performing teams. Nicole is an integral part of the Farran Street Education facilitation team, and currently facilitates team workshops including Understanding Yourself and Others and The Trusted Team.