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Are Your Greatest Strengths Sabotaging Your Success?

Are Your Greatest Strengths Sabotaging Your Success?

For leaders and managers, effective communication and the ability to handle conflict in ourselves and others are key to success. This article looks at how our strengths - the attributes we pride ourselves on - can sometimes be overdone and actually get in the way of achieving that success.

We all have strengths we pride ourselves on, and that make us feel great about ourselves when we use them. Sometimes though, we can "overdo" these strengths in ways that can sabotage our success in communication and relationships.

Overdone strengths {weaknesses} are behaviours we intend as strengths {i.e. we have a positive motivation} but they're perceived negatively by others and could cause conflict.

There are two key ways we can increase our effectiveness around overdone strengths – change our own behaviours and change the way we interpret other people’s behaviours:

  1. If you’re aware of your overdone strengths and how they may be perceived by others in a way you’re not intending, you can choose to do them less or dial them back a bit to turn them back into strengths – you’ll be more effective!

  2. As well as changing your own behaviours, you may also like to consider changing the way you look at others when they overdo their strengths. You could ask yourself, what might be the positive intent behind what they’re doing? This can reduce potential conflict as you begin to understand, and perhaps even appreciate, the motivation behind their behaviour.

Have you ever behaved in a way you thought was right and effective, only to have someone else react in a way that totally surprised you because they misinterpreted your good intentions?

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I recently did an activity where I looked at what my top strengths were. My top strength was "curiosity" which I was really pleased with as I love learning about new theories and ideas, finding out what people are up to and what makes people tick. As a facilitator and coach, the ability to be curious, ask questions, explore, deeply listen and have courageous, authentic conversations are invaluable skills.

Not long after this, I was having a conversation with my brother Josh. I was asking him some questions about what had been happening with him and did my usual thing of "digging deeper" to find out more and explore what had been going on in his life. Eventually he responded with, "Gee you're being nosy - so many questions!".

My horrified response was, "But Josh, I'm just being curious...........and.........oh my goodness, I can totally see how that could come across as being nosy - I've never thought about it like that before!"

I was mortified that the strength I prided myself on was coming across in a way I hadn't intended!

However that honest feedback turned out to be solid gold for me. It revealed blind-spots. Firstly, that asking questions may be appropriate when I'm coaching someone but perhaps not so much in an everyday conversation.

The second was that the strength of "curiosity" when overdone and used too much can come across as "nosy". In fact the very definition of nosy is "showing too much curiosity about other people's affairs!"

So, a big thank you to my brother for providing me with this invaluable insight and for speaking up! If he’d said nothing, I would have kept on going, unaware of the impact that my behaviour was having, and that could have led to conflict.

I was also able to explain to Josh that my intention was to be curious because I care about him rather than trying to pry into his affairs.

This experience was such a great example of how being unaware of misusing or overdoing a strength can block our success. How often does this happen in our relationships too, when we behave in a way that makes sense to us, blithely unaware that it is being perceived in a negative way by others?

Here’s how strengths can be overdone:

  • Frequency {we use them too often}

  • Intensity {the “volume” of our strength is turned up too loudly}

  • Context {we can misapply our strength. Remember that what works in one context may not work in another}

  • Duration {we use our strength for too long}

What can also happen is that when we apply a strength and find it doesn’t work in a given situation, we’ll try even harder which just makes the situation worse! We can also tend to overdo our strengths when we’re under stress. These are all things to be mindful of.

Flip sides of what are usually strengths can be when someone who is intending to be sociable is seen as intrusive; the trusting person is viewed as gullible; the methodical person as rigid, and the assertive person as aggressive.

Ask yourself – what do you think are your top two strengths? Why are they important to you? When you use them effectively what happens? If you overdo them what happens? How might your strengths be perceived by others?

For leaders it’s important to develop the practice of reflection, to improve our self-awareness and make a conscious choice to change our own behaviour in order to improve our relationships.

What could you do to change your behaviour when you’re overdoing your strengths to be more effective? What counter-balancing strengths could you call on?

Another key way we can be more effective in our working relationships, reduce conflict and increase our interpersonal success is to change how we see others.

Our behaviour is driven by our motives which others are not always aware of, instead they often make assumptions about our intent. For example, more often than not, people aren’t trying to be aggressive or intrusive. They’re trying to use the productive form of their assertive or sociable strengths.

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Rather than labeling someone with terms like, “She’s so aggressive”, or “He’s really nosy”, we can ask ourselves, “What might be the positive intent behind this behaviour? What might they really be trying to achieve?”.

It’s amazing how this simple exercise can shift your view and reduce internal conflict – you can look at the other person with compassion rather than with suspicion or annoyance.

Who is someone that behaves ways you sometimes don’t appreciate? What is it they do? What might be the positive intent behind their behaviour, what strength are they wanting to use?

Then think about how might they be overdoing this strength e.g. in frequency, intensity, context or duration? How can you use this new knowledge?

The other lesson in this is the ability to have conversations with others where we can explain the intentions behind our own behaviour or provide useful feedback about the impact of someone else's behaviour.

Taking the time to press pause and reflect on your own behaviour is a key leadership practice.

How might others be experiencing your strengths and is it as you intend? How are you experiencing other people's strengths and could you shift your perception of their underlying motivations to see a more positive intent? How would this impact on tension and conflict in your workplace and in your life?

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This article was written by Cynthia Mahoney, a regular contributor to Dream Believe Create Magazine. Cynthia works with individuals, groups, business and government in leadership and personal development, facilitation, coaching, strategic planning and evaluation.

Click here to find out more and contact Cynthia.

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