Are You Blind to What You Do Best?

When it comes to achieving your potential at work, are you making success harder than it needs to be? Researchers estimate that two-thirds of us have no idea what our strengths are, and yet a growing body of evidence suggests developing our strengths at work is key to unleashing our personal and professional success.
01/23/2015 12:51 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

Are You Blind To What You Do Best?

When it comes to achieving your potential at work, are you making success harder than it needs to be? Researchers estimate that two-thirds of us have no idea what our strengths are, and yet a growing body of evidence suggests developing our strengths at work is key to unleashing our personal and professional success.

Why?

"Strengths represent your potential," explained Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, one of the world's leading researchers on strengths and happiness, when I interviewed him recently.

"Preliminary evidence suggests identifying and developing your strengths is associated to more feelings of engagement at work, higher levels of happiness, and greater feelings of physical and psychological energy and vitality," explained Robert.

The challenge Robert suggests in achieving these outcomes is that many of us suffer 'strengths blindness', causing us to overlook the fact that we have extraordinary quality because they seem ordinary to us.

"Sometimes strengths are so closely intertwined with our values, they come so naturally to us, they seem so automatic that we feel like we're just doing what anyone would do," he said. "I think it's important for people to wake up to their own strengths and if not brag about them openly, at least privately acknowledge them."

Robert suggests we can become more aware of our strengths by answering the following questions:

  • What is it that I'm good at?
  • What come naturally to me?
  • What is energizing to me?
  • When I have the opportunity to engage in elective opportunities or activities, what is that I gravitate towards?
  • When I'm at work and I'm feeling proud of myself and I'm feeling really engaged, what is it that I'm doing?
  • What is it that other people are giving me feedback on, what is it that they're complimenting me on, what are others seeing as good in me?
Then reflecting on your answers try to triangulate the three to ten different types of behaviors and learnings that are your natural strengths. If you're struggling to name your strengths you may also want to try one a strengths assessment tool like the
.

Of course discovering your strengths is one thing, but using them consistently at work to bring out your best can be quite another in my experience. Robert suggests that when it comes to developing our strengths it pays to be aware that:

  • Strengths don't exist in isolation - Just because you use a strength doesn't mean you'll automatically get it right. Strengths exist in a context and you really have to use the right strength for the right situation, right at the right moment and in the right amount.
  • Strengths can make us sensitive - We're all sensitive to failure, and even if we re-frame failure as an opportunity to learn, the truth is failure typically carries with it a bit of a psychological sting. When we experience failure while using our strength, that sting is particularly painful because we were giving something our best shot. The good news is that historically failure has been one of the ways you've developed your strengths, you've learnt from what you did wrong so you can use your strengths better. So be aware that even when using your strengths you may occasionally fail, and while unpleasant this isn't a threat to your very identity and who you are at your best.
  • Strengths can have a social cost - Strengths are inherently tied to our own values. If our values are like the roots of a tree and they're invisible, our strengths are like the trunk of the tree, they're like the behaviors that show up in the real world. But not everyone shares your values. For example, it's difficult for spontaneous, creative people to fall in love with the approach of planners and organizers and vice versa. It's important to be aware that not everybody will value your strengths and mindfully develop them in ways that bring out the best in you and the people around you.

If you'd like more tested, practical ways to put your strengths to work, grab this free e-book from the latest science in positive psychology.