Written by: Lorraine Madden, Associate @ Semann & Slattery

There is a strong evidence base about the benefits of using strengths at work. Discovering and using strengths has been found to help people achieve their goals, increase positive emotions and wellbeing, and enhance workplace performance (Linely, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010). Click on the following links to read more about the evidence base for using strengths:

http://www.viacharacter.org/www/en-us/research/summaries.aspx

http://www.cappeu.com/Portals/3/Files/Why_Strengths_The_Evidence.pdf

Linely (2008) defines a strength as ‘a preexisting capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance’ (p. 9). He also argues that ‘realising our strengths is the smallest thing we can do to make the biggest difference’ (2008, p. 47)

Clearly, the research is compelling. However, we can’t utilise our strengths if we don’t know what they are! All to often, when people are asked to name their strengths, they struggle to do so. Interestingly, they can be quick to name the things they are not good at, or their so-called weaknesses.

Don’t despair! There are a number of resources available to help you identify your strengths. One that is well utilised is the Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). The survey measures a person’s twenty-four character strengths. The results provide, in rank order, a person’s character strengths from 1-24, including their top five ‘signature strengths’. To complete the survey, go to www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu. Click on register and complete the free registration, prior to completing the survey itself. Allow yourself about 30 minutes to complete the survey.

When you get your results, some of you may be tempted to focus on those ‘strengths’ at the bottom of the list. Certainly, there may be some instances in which you may want to develop strengths lower down the order. However, where possible, look for opportunities to maximise the use of your signature strengths. Linely and his colleagues argue that in some instances it can be helpful to pair a top strength with a lesser one, in order to reach a goal. They also propose using a team approach, working with colleagues to utilise their strengths, together with your own, to achieve a desired result.

As a word of caution, Linely and his colleagues advise you take care not to overplay your strengths. Of course it is appealing to use what comes naturally to you, you are good at, and find energising. However, take care to ensure they are appropriate to the situation, context and people involved.

Why not make an appointment with yourself today (or this week) to complete the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. Suggest your colleagues to do the same so you can compare your results, remembering this is not a competition, as all strengths have value. Reflect on how you are currently using your signature strengths, both individually and collectively, and look for opportunities to ultilise them more frequently.

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