Mentoring and CoachingPositive Psychology

Strengths spotting

Colin Slattery
June 19, 2020

Much has been written about the benefits of using our strengths across all aspects of our lives. Interestingly, many of us have difficulty identifying strengths. In addition, most people who can name their strengths say they don’t use them all that much (Biswas-Diener, Kashdan & Minhas, 2011).

There are a number of questionnaires and assessments that can be used to determine a person’s strengths. Some are free, such as the Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths. Other can be purchased for a fee, such as Strengths Profile and the Clifton StrengthsFinder.

Discovering our strengths through a survey or assessment tool is helpful for a number of reasons. Importantly, it gives us a tool with which to better understand, articulate and utilise our strengths, which can make us happier, more productive, engaged, energised, resilient and confident (Linley, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010). This knowledge also helps us to notice, describe and talk about the strengths we see in others, and how using these strengths impacts on them and on others.

Linley (2008) describes the ability to notice strengths in others as strengths spotting. Strengths spotting means we are actively seeking to notice what people are doing when they are at their best. He provides the following list of ‘telltale signs’ of strengths use:

  • A sense of energy and engagement when using the strength
  • Losing a sense of time when using the strength
  • Rapid learning of knowledge and skills associated with the strength
  • A repeated pattern of successful performance using the strength
  • Exemplary levels of performance using the strength
  • Consistently getting the task done that requires the use of the strength
  • Prioritising tasks that require the use of the strength
  • Feeling a strong desire or longing to use the strength
  • Being drawn to do things that play to the strength (Linley, 2008, pp. 74-75).

Asking someone to talk about what they are doing when they are at their best can also reveal a number of telltale signs indicating strengths use. Linley describes an activity he used with a group of students in which he asked them to first talk about something they dislike or find challenging, followed by something they love doing. You might like to try this with people you know. Look and listen for changes in energy and emotion; body language and gesture; voice quality, such as pitch and tone; word selection; and the delivery and impact of the story.

Refining your strengths spotting skills enhances awareness and understanding of your own strengths and the strengths of others, increasing the potential of using your strengths more frequently and effectively, resulting in greater benefits, for you and for others.