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Your Company Is Having the Wrong Conversation

How often do you have conversations about strengths in your workplace? Researchers suggest most workplaces spend about 80 percent of their time pointing out weaknesses and ways to fix them, and only about 20 percent of their time spotting strengths and ways to build on them. But should this number be flipped?

Research also shows that when you have the opportunity to use your strengths—those things you are good at and enjoy doing—at work each day, you are much more likely to feel engaged and energized in your job because you believe you’re making a difference and that your work is appreciated. And, most importantly, you feel that you are flourishing at work.

So, over the last two years  Live Happy, the VIA Institute on Character and my company have run a one week Global Strengths Challenge to give people across the world the opportunity to find ways to consistently put their strengths to work. Our participants took the free VIA Character Strengths Survey to help them identify their top five signature strengths, and then we used our knowledge about a simple neurological habit loop to give them an easy way to design an 11-minute “busy-proof” strength habit.

This habit consisted of a:workplace conversation
  • 30 second ‘cue’ which triggered the habit (e.g., arriving at work)
  • 10 minute ‘routine’ (e.g., reading a new interesting article, for the curiosity strength)
  • 30 second ‘reward’ (e.g., getting a morning coffee)

We found that after taking part in our Global Strengths Challenge approximately a third of the participants reported feeling more engaged and energized (37 percent), making a difference (30 percent), respected and valued (30 percent), and flourishing (38 percent) at work. Consistent with other findings, people reported that the opportunity to use their strengths at work each day made the biggest difference in terms of feeling engaged and energized on the job. This result was amplified when employees were also able to engage in strengths-related discussions with their supervisors.

Managers play an important role in helping make workplace conversations more strengths-focused. For example, The Corporate Leadership Council found that when managers focus on the strengths of their employees, performance improves up to 36 percent; whereas when they focus on their weaknesses, their performance declines by up to 27 percent.

So how can you make conversations more strengths focused while still addressing areas for improvement?

Try these three simple steps:

1. Look for people’s strengths

Look for the moments when people are more engaged, energized and enjoying what they’re talking about or doing. Often their bodies will start to lean into the conversation, body language may become more animated and the tone of voice and pace of speech tend to be uplifted. Can you see their curiosity, creativity, humor, honesty or perseverance in action? If you’re not sure, ask your people to complete the free, 10-minute strengths survey at viacharacter.org and have a discussion about the results.

2. Develop people’s strengths:

Give employees the opportunity to develop their strengths as they go about their job each day. Help them to use their strengths intelligently by showing them where they might be underplaying, overplaying or getting their strengths just right. Being strengths-focused doesn’t mean you have to ignore weaknesses or poor performance. What it does mean is that you have other tools, like looking for ways to dial an existing strength up or down to make performances a little easier and more effective and enjoyable.

3. Give strengths-based feedback:

We all share a deep psychological need to be respected, valued and appreciated. So instead of just saying “Thanks,” and leaving someone wondering what they did right, try to tell them which strengths you saw them using and why you valued what they did so they feel confident to replicate the behavior again. For example, “Thanks for your curiosity (one of the 24 character strengths) in that meeting; the questions you asked helped us to have a more robust conversation.”

What can you do to create more strengths-based conversations in your workplace?

Michelle McQuaid is a best-selling author, teacher and coach with a masters in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She has written extensively on well-being in the workplace.

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