Positive psychology practitioners regularly use strengths-based interventions by identifying and developing their client’s personal strengths to help them become more effective and more successful. Strength-based interventions work on the premise that people have abilities and internal resources that can be utilized to achieve remarkable outcomes when understood and applied correctly.
Strengths-based interventions are highly empowering and motivating, and give people control and confidence. These approaches do not ignore weaknesses but work on the basis that investing time and energy in the areas of strength is more productive and more likely to succeed than using our resources on overcoming weaknesses. Moreover, if we need to prevail over an area of weakness, using our strengths to do that, makes more sense.
CSF & VIA-IS
The two most used strengths models (or scales) are “Clifton StrengthsFinder” (CSF) developed by Gallup (the American research-based, global performance-management consulting company), and the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) created by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (Values in Action Institute). The first, (CSF) is a talent-based framework and contains 177 items designed to measure talent in 34 possible themes. The other, VIA-IS is made up of 240 items clustered within six “Virtues” or characteristics that are deemed valuable almost universally. They include; courage, humanity, justice, temperance, transcendence, and wisdom. In VIA-IS, virtues manifest through 24 character strengths that are believed to be relatively stable.
The aim of this article is not introducing, comparing or analyzing these scales but to raise caution against a common pitfall in using these strengths assessment tools. The results of these assessment tools, seemingly show fixed and unchangeable traits and provide flattering positive labels (e.g. curious, open-minded, or hopeful) that may lead to a false impression that the suggested strengths are innate and stable characters. Consequently, clients may unwittingly develop a fixed-mindset about their strengths and abilities. This is where the strengths-based intervention can become detrimental rather than helpful. Such unwanted backlash is particularly more likely if the client already possesses a fixed-mindset. The fact is that mindsets, as well as personal traits and characters, can be changed and developed. Therefore, it is important that positive psychology practitioners should clearly communicate a growth-mindset about their clients’ strengths during the intervention. Practitioners should adapt a developmental approach and discuss with their clients the ways;
- they can apply their strengths to new situations,
- they can use various combinations of their strengths in various given situations.
- they can develop their strengths on an ongoing basis,
- they can use their strengths in conjunction with their values, mindset and goals.
Exercises to discover and train your strengths
Given most of us report we’re just getting by when it comes to our jobs, how hard can it be to start doing more of what we do best? Well, you might be surprised. Off the top of your head right now try naming your top five strengths.
Chances are you’ll spot two or three easily, but most of us struggle to name five because we’re often blind to some of the things we do best without the help of a strengths assessment tool like Gallup’s StrengthsFinder or the VIA Survey. For the strengths you can remember, now think about how often you’ve intentionally used them over the past few days at work? Studies suggest only 50% of us will have had the opportunity to do what we do best – to develop our strengths – each day as we go about our jobs.
Why is developing our strengths so hard?
Having taught thousands of people around the world to put their strengths to work the most common challenges I hear are: “I’m not sure where to start” and “I’m too busy right now”. I get it. But don’t these seem like the worst reasons in the world not to do more of what you do best each day and truly flourish at work? So here are three, simple busy-proof steps you can take to make easier:
- Discover Your Strengths – If you can’t name what your top five strengths are, take this free, ten-minute VIA Survey. Knowing your strengths has been found to make it up to nine times more likely that you’ll feel like you’re flourishing at work. When you get your results don’t file them away, put them somewhere you’ll see them each day and look for ways they’re showing up when you’re feeling engaged and energized by your work.
- Prioritize Your Strengths – Rather than working on all five strengths at once, use the Strengths Wheel developed by Matt Driver and part of the Positive Psychology Practitioners Toolkit to shrink the change and prioritize your focus. Follow the instructions on the worksheet below to make a graphical representation of the extent to which your top five strengths are currently used at work and the scope that exists to improve upon this. Then start by developing just one strength, so you can build up your confidence before tackling the rest.
- Create A Daily Strengths Habit – Now you know which strength you want to develop, keep the change small and create an 11-minute daily strength habit. Join the free global Strengths Challenge to be guided step-by-step to create an easy brain-friendly routine that allows you to start doing more of what you do best. Not only will you find more than 70 different ways you can put the VIA Strengths to work, but you can also access free strength coaches if you need additional support.
Parks, A. C., & Schueller, S. M. (Eds.). (2014). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Positive Psychological Interventions. Wiley Blackwell.
Asplund, J., Lopez, S. J., Hodges, T., & Harter, J. (2007). The Clifton StrengthsFinder® 2.0 technical report: Development and validation. The Gallup Organization, Princeton, NJ.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2006).The Values in Action (VIA) classification of strengths. A life worth living: Contributions to positive psychology, 29-48