3 Steps To Using Your Strengths Effectively At Work

 

Human beings are biologically wired to focus on the negatives instead of the positive. Don’t just take our word for it, though; psychological research has proven that our brains have a built-in bias towards bad news.

Most of us tend to apply the same logic to ourselves in life and at work; we focus more on our weaknesses than on our strengths. It’s probably why, until recently, traditional feedback systems tended to focus more on mitigating weaknesses instead of building strengths. It’s somehow become a widely accepted “truth” that telling people to focus on getting better at what they’re bad at will help them perform better.

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The numbers, though, tell a different story. After studying more than 1 million people across 50 000 teams over 10 years, Gallup found that the most significant predictor of high performance is whether people had a chance to use their strengths at work every day. It also found that the more you use your strengths at work, the less anxious and stressed you tend to be. On the other hand, only 16-17% of people worldwide say they use their strengths at work.

Evidently, there’s a huge gap here; the key to high performance is to capitalise on your strengths, but most of us aren’t doing it. We’re actively giving up the chance to grow and shine at work, while also unintentionally slowing down our own career development.

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However, It isn’t always clear how you can use your strengths at work, or even what these strengths are in the first place. To that end, here are three steps you can take towards being able to fully utilise your strengths at work towards better performance and career success.

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1. Define what strengths and weaknesses are

Before diving straight into identifying our core strengths, we need first to correct our definitions. Most people understand a strength to be something you’re naturally good at or something you consistently do well.

On the contrary, though, there are probably some things you’re good at but that you don’t enjoy. You might, for example, have an eye for detail, but hate having to be the team’s go-to proofreader.

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According to strengths expert Marcus Buckingham, a strength isn’t just what you’re good at. It’s also something that keeps re-energising you to do better every time. Conversely, if you’re doing something that you’re good at but that you hate, it will continuously drain you over time.

 

2. Identifying your strengths

Not everyone intuitively knows what they’re good at. A lot of the time, they might not know which areas of expertise they naturally excel at, or even have long-held misconceptions about their personal strengths and weaknesses. It’s also possible that someone may not be aware of his fortes even if it may be relatively apparent from others’ perspectives.

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For an immediate solution, you can use online tools like Gallup’s ClifftonStrengths 34 Report or the DISC Personality Assessment Framework. Alternatively, there are a few other ways to find out where your strengths lie:

 

Examine the things you’re good at

  • Make a list of all the things you’ve done well in the past, including those you didn’t enjoy doing, even if they seem to be unconnected
  • Then examine all of the items on the list
  • See if there’s a pattern hiding underneath them, or if there’s an underlying skill that you have which consistently helped you excel

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Practice self-awareness

Ask yourself:

  • What do people always praise me for?
  • When do I find myself losing track of time while engaging in a particular activity because I both enjoy and excel at it?

 

Try the Reflected Best Self Exercise*

  • Ask 10-15 co-workers, friends, or family to tell a story about a time when you excelled
  • Look systematically through their responses and identify the trends that pull them together, as well as specific examples and evidence to substantiate these trends.
  • Write a three or four-paragraph self-portrait based on the feedback you gathered.

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Treat it like a testimonial you’re writing for yourself, and don’t worry about feeling self-absorbed while doing this. It’s crucial to cement your knowledge of your strengths in your self-perception. You might be surprised; people might highlight strengths you never thought about or even considered before.

 

3. Channel your strengths appropriately

 

One essential element of loving your job is to do what you’re good at, but it’s important not to take this for granted. Building your strengths for the long haul takes a disciplined commitment to long-term growth. To get the maximum benefit out of strengths-building, you need to have a lifelong commitment to doing what it takes to maximise your strengths and that of others’, as well.

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Just because you’re good at something now doesn’t mean you’re always going to be good at it, or that you don’t need to keep working on it since it’ll “sort itself out.” In the same vein, don’t assume that now that your co-workers and bosses know your strengths, they’ll give you opportunities to capitalise on them.

 

Engage in job crafting

Based on your new knowledge of your strengths, try to re-shape your job within constraints to fit your strengths. For example, look at how you could approach particular recurring tasks differently in ways that draw on your strengths.

You could also use your strengths to establish and strengthen work relationships that can potentially improve team rapport, communication flows, or even conflict resolution.

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Be proactive

Take the initiative to actively seek out opportunities and mutually beneficial scenarios that allow you to use your strengths. Consider, for example, the different strengths and weaknesses within your team and then swapping tasks so that everyone enjoys a good strengths-task fit.

 

*As reported in the Harvard Business Review

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