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Character Strengths: An Effective Means to Positive Change

To effect desired change, is it better to focus on strengths or weaknesses? Well, the answer points to both. However, it’s about considering the desired outcome and having the balance of skilful knowledge to determine whether working on a weakness or developing a strength will best lead to success. Unfortunately, there exists a strong negativity bias whereby 80% of effort or knowledge is focused on addressing weakness and only 20% on developing strengths. Subsequently, while repeatedly focusing on what’s ‘wrong’, many people hold the belief that they are inefficient and unable. No surprise that doing so leads to a greater sense of stress and associated struggle. Like we don’t have enough of that already!

A common thread consistently links a lot of the people I meet. Many of them don’t have a personal strengths vocabulary or feel uncomfortable talking about such things. Admittedly, up until doing the master of applied positive psychology program in 2014, I too was one of ‘them’ and am grateful for the positive change.

To paint a little bit of a picture here, while in a professional or personal setting, if I were to ask someone, “what are your weaknesses” or “what don’t you like about yourself”, boom, it’s like an explosion of commentary! On the other hand, when I ask someone, “what are your strengths” or “what are the best things about yourself”, there’s often a pause with stumbled efforts to piece together a narrative. When focused on strengths, I hear things like, “nobody’s ever asked me that before”, “I don’t know how to put it into words” or most often, “I don’t know”. Thankfully, there are a few ways to learn more about your character strengths but let’s first answer another question I tend to hear, “why bother”? Well, the research and practice speaks for itself so continue reading to find out.

Some of the why?

Reputable studies of character strengths at work continue to increase and inform organisations on how to best put research into practice. Developing a stronger focus on character strengths at work is beneficial and organisations are catching on. Human resource departments, managers, team leaders, executives, and consultants are developing a strengths vocabulary and are successfully implementing positive change.

Reported benefits for the proactive development of character strengths:

  • Improved team performance, increased productivity
  • Experience faster growth and development
  • Greater levels of engagement, employee retention
  • Improved employee wellbeing
  • Increased job satisfaction, pleasure, and meaning in one’s work

Character strengths are an integral part of who we are, what we value, and how we like to do things. At the end of a work day, we don’t simply lock up our strengths in a filing cabinet for tomorrow. We take them with us wherever we go. To recognise which strengths are best applied when and to what degree, is also an important factor in understanding our interactions with the world around us. It is a balancing act that gets easier with fine-tuning, time, and practice.

Additional reported benefits:

  • Increased life satisfaction, pursuit of enjoyable activities 
  • More active lifestyle and healthier eating habits
  • Improved stress management
  • Lower levels of depression and increased sense of happiness
  • Feel healthier and have more energy

Some of the how?

A decade of research continues to report on the benefits of learning about your character strengths and how best to use them in various situations. Understanding your individual, team, or organisational character strengths isbeneficial. Discovering how to put such strengths into practice also provides an invaluable skill to assist with decision making and progress. 

There are a few different measures out there (e.g., R2 Strengths Profiler,StrengthsFinder2.0), however the Values In Action (VIA) Survey is currently the most well-researched and validated strengths assessment tool and is considered a great place to start.

The VIA is freely accessed at www.viacharacter.org where you’re asked to register and create a VIA account. Doing so, permits access to your results at any time and also keeps record of past completions. You can also explore all the website content which has a wealth of information. The survey takes about 10-15 minutes to complete and nearly 3 million people have done so! Upon completing the survey, you’ll be provided a summary of your character strengths, rank-ordered from 1-24. Keep in mind that #24 is not a weakness, it’s simply a lesser utilised strength! (I'm still surprised at the number of people who quickly look to the bottom of the list in consideration of what's 'wrong' with them).

When considering your VIA results, spend some time thinking about how often you have the opportunity to engage with your top 4-6 strengths in different contexts (e.g., work, play). When in use, those top “signature strengths” are considered to make you feel most authentic, happy, and energised. How does your profile seem to fit for your experiences? When considering times you've been performing at your best, what character strengths were at play? Are there additional ways you could proactively bring your signature strengths to the forefront?

I hope you curiously explore the material and that you're intrigued by the potential of learning more about the value and potential of cultivating character strengths. Enjoy the process of unlocking your potential!

Leonard (Len) Kling effectively combines his background as a clinical psychologist with the benefits of coaching practice. With his unique blend of character strengths and experience, he assists people to unlock their potential and achieve their goals. In 2014, Len was among the first cohort of Australian graduates to complete a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP). The associated energy and excitement led him to expand his private practice and open Room for Positive Change. You’re invited to explore the website, connect on social media, and contact Len to discover how he can assist you, your team, or your organisation. Remember, there’s always room for positive change! (www.roomforpositivechange.com.au)

Resources:

For a more detailed look at the research and references supporting the use of character strengths, explore the Research tab here at the VIA website.

Another great resource is found here: Your Strengths Blueprint: How to be Engaged, Energized, and Happy at Work by Michelle McQuaid and Erin Lawn.