If you’re a bit like me, you do have a hard time talking about your strengths. As a German, I tend to be not that good at this – it basically is not really something that you do in our culture. I could tell you a long story about each and everyone of my flaws, but you probably don’t want to hear that.
Maybe you don’t even know what your strength are. So how are you going to find out? Obviously, there’s lots of tests and questionnaires out there. By way of example, you could take the Gallup StrengthFinder, or the VIA Questionnaire which will display your personal order of 24 character strengths according to a framework by Positive Psychology researchers Christopher Peterson and Marty Seligman.
But then, you might feel uncomfortable with regard to being assessed by an algorithm. Those tests are very reliable but on the other hand, they will only show you results depending on a fixed framework. What others really think of you or perceive as being your strengths could be a lot more nuanced than what those tests will be able to show you.
Granted, it might feel a little awkward asking other people to name your strength. The good thing is: there is a structured framework to achieve just that: the Best Reflected Self™ exercise. It was developed at University of Michigan´s Center for Positive Organizations and you can purchase the official exercise book there in case you want to use the that tool with your students or clients.
But basically, it involves just a couple of easy steps:
1) You ask a group of people that know you (friends, relatives, coworkers, clients etc.) to provide you with feedback. They should tell you what your strengths are from their point of view and ideally provide examples to back up their opinion. Instead of asking people in person, yesterday, I reached out to my network on Facebook to do just that:
2) You gather all the responses and try to identify common themes. Here, I tried to detect all the words that alluded to a strength, turned them into nouns, and then harmonized those terms that represent very similar concepts. Finally, I took the result and inserted it into http://www.wordle.net. Here´s what came out of it (it´s German, but I guess you´ll understand most of it anyway):
3) Now, write up a paragraph, summarizing your findings, describing what you are really, really good at: this is your personal strengths profile.
4) Finally, you should reflect on your current life roles with regard to this profile. E.g., does your current job give you frequent opportunities to play on your strengths? And if the answer is “no”: what could you do to adapt your role so it better reflects your best self (–> Job Crafting)?
I have to admit it was really touching to get all this positive feedback. Typically, when you work in an organization, you tend to get feedback (if things go well…) based on what you do well, but mostly on your potential (a.k.a.: where you need to improve).
Explicitly asking people to look on your bright side exclusively yields a special kind of learning experience – it´s like a mirror that somehow manages to make you look really, really good. I definitely know that it´s an idealized picture that I don’t live up to each and every day – but I know that I have it in me. And I can rely on it when life requires me to shine…