A few years ago I discovered the work of Dr Martin Seligman and Dr Chris Peterson on Character Strengths. These two men revealed 24 strengths of character that belong to human beings, simply because we’re human beings. These strengths exist across race, gender and time. These are strengths such as gratitude, kindness, love of learning, forgiveness and curiosity. Each and every one is a strength in and of itself, and all of us have all 24 strengths that we can access, yet we have a natural preference for using certain strengths more readily than others.
The power in understanding strengths comes when we can recognise and accept a behaviour in others that may have been annoying or frustrating to us, and viewing it simply as a strength that someone has a strong natural preference to operate from. Let me give an example. I have a client who feels a bit hurt and misunderstood at their work, being accused as sometimes appearing rude and blunt. This is confusing for them because they are a kind and forgiving person. I asked them to complete a Character Strengths Survey* and the results show the 24 Character Strengths in the order that they have as a preference to use them. All humans have all 24 Character Strengths, however we have different preferences for the ones that we feel most congruent in using. In my client’s case, in their top strengths were ‘Honesty’ and ‘Bravery’. Bingo! From their point of you, they weren’t being rude and had no malicious intent at all, they were simply most comfortable being ‘Honest’ and they had no fear (‘Bravery’) around delivering their honesty. The outcome of this is that they can be perceived as rude and blunt. Once we know about Character Strengths, it empowers us to take our focus away from what’s wrong with them (e.g. they are rude and blunt) to what strengths they may simply be over-playing. My clients Honesty and Bravery are wonderful strengths; they were simply being over-played and not being tempered with other strengths, such as Social Intelligence.
Here’s the point I want to make. If you understand Character Strengths, you can usually spot someone being in their top strengths. They speak with passion, energy and ease from this place. It becomes who they are and how they behave. When we understand these as strengths we open up far more constructive and positive conversations for change.
Taking strengths to the next level comes in understanding your friends and your family’s strengths so that you can help your loved ones be in their top strengths more often. When we are functioning out of our top strengths, we feel energised and authentic. Life seems easier and more fulfilling.
My children have completed the Character Strengths survey, so I can intentionally help them be in their top strengths as often as possible. This makes for fulfilled children and helps to minimise resistance to work. For
example, my son’s top strength is ‘Humour and Playfulness’, so I know if I would like him to do the dishes, then if I can make it fun and game-like, he will love participating. My daughter’s top three strengths are Love, Kindness and Gratitude. If I want her to do the dishes then a big hug and oodles of thanks is
going to help her feel great about doing the dishes!
It is such a simple, yet positive and powerful tool to understand. Best of all it's free to find out your Character Strengths, and there’s loads of information on how to use them.
I encourage you to know yours, know your loved ones and discover a positive context to understand others differences.
*Here's the link to the free Character Strengths Survey (choose option 3 for the free one), it takes about 15 minutes to complete. Why not find out yours today and start reaping the benefits?