Why is it so hard to tell other people what we’re good at?
I always felt nervous as I prepared for job interviews and the inevitable question: “Why should we hire you?”
Then, I’d get annoyed at myself. Why, after all this time, was it still so hard to answer this question?
With renewed resolve, I’d try to think up a satisfactory answer.
Hmm…. What was I good at?
I’d write down a few things, but they sounded unbearably generic. Or even worse, they were things I didn’t particularly like doing.
Why is answering this question so complicated?
One basic reason is that as we grow up, most of us cobble together an incomplete picture of our strengths based on our grades in school (which reflect a very narrow group of subjects) and what our families, teachers, sports coaches, and peers occasionally tell us.
Then, we enter the job market and are suddenly expected to tell other people authoritatively how we offer value.
Yet most of us have never sat down with someone objective to really explore and identify our unique talents and strengths.
What's at stake
Our difficulties with the question, “What are you good at?” has huge implications in our lives. It can:
- Keep us stuck in jobs we don’t really like.
- Prevent us from asking for a raise or promotion.
- Hold us back from switching careers or starting our own creative or entrepreneurial ventures.
And what’s the impact of these things?
- When we spend hours a day, day-after-day at a job we don’t like, we feel like we’re wasting our lives.
- When we don’t feel adequately compensated, it begins to distract us from doing our best work. Resentment and low self-esteem start to prey on us. Plus, our financial independence suffers.
- When we fail to go after work that really inspires and suits us, we miss out on making our unique contribution to the world.
I hate seeing people needlessly stuck this way. It’s why for the last three years, I’ve made identifying strengths a key element of my coaching.
It continues to amaze me how the combination of a very simple assessment (CliftonStrengths, formerly StrengthsFinder) and a couple of hours of coaching can bring amazing clarity to someone: about the ways their current job is a good fit, or not, and how they can begin to express their strengths to others in a way that increases their satisfaction, opportunities and impact.
The how – and why -- of discovering strengths
I first took the CliftonStrengths assessment as part of my coursework with Marie Forleo’s B-School. I had just started my online business and signed up for B-School to learn how to get it up and running.
Forleo said that the book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham was a “life-changer” for her. She emphasized the importance of building a business around your strengths.
When I took the assessment, I was surprised at my results. My top themes were: Empathy, Strategic, Futuristic, Maximizer and Responsibility.
Some, like Empathy, were apparent to me. I've always been told that I'm a sensitive person, closely attuned to emotions.
Others, like Futuristic, surprised me. People who are Futuristic spend a lot of time thinking ahead about how to make the future better and they inspire others with these vivid ideas.
It was true that I really enjoyed thinking about future -- and that occasionally I found it odd that other people didn't seem to contemplate it as much as I did -- but I never considered it a special trait.
As I’ve grown my business, it’s become more and more clear where I use my strengths.
Obviously I use empathy to connect with my clients and their situations. I use my strategic strengths when doing action planning and next steps; I can always spot potential problems, information gaps, and roadblocks a long way off.
Futuristic is now one of my most prized strengths in my work, because I use it to help clients imagine a better future for themselves, and this vision is what ultimately inspires them to action. Their ideas for the future never seem crazy or untenable to me, because I can totally see my clients getting there, and I’m going to root for them every step of the way.
Soon after I took the CliftonStrengths assessment, I started encouraging my clients to take it too – and then we’d spend a session reviewing their results.
I began to see common reactions, like:
“I never realized that was a strength. I guess didn’t realize that other people don't do that."
“I always thought that was a weakness, actually. Sometimes it causes me problems.”
“Now I understand why I’m so unhappy at work!”
We always have a lot to talk about.
Clarity. Confidence. Next steps. And talking points.
That’s what people generally walk away with after a Strengths Session with me.
Drafting talking points -- and practicing them -- is one of the most important takeaways. I know how hard it is to articulate your strengths on your own, so I always make sure that we draft actual talking points, and practice them. (This is where my past work in communications really comes in handy!)
How would your work and life change if you were clearer on your strengths – and focused more on developing them?
Could it especially help you now in a job search or getting a promotion with your current employer?
Or maybe you’d like to find a way to feel happier and more effective at work in general?
In the past I’ve only done Strengths Sessions with ongoing coaching clients. Now for the first time, I’m offering it as a stand-alone package.
Get $20 off a Strengths Session if you book by April 2, 2018. (Coupon code: MYSTRENGTHS)
This makes a great gift too, especially for college grads.
I also do this work with couples. Get clearer on your strengths, your partner’s strengths, and discover new possibilities for what you can do as a team. This is really powerful stuff.
Get $40 off a Strengths Session for Couples if you book by April 2, 2018.
Usually we're too close to our strengths to see them clearly -- this is why an outside perspective is so helpful. Start using your strengths at work, and watch how it increases your satisfaction and contribution.