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Home » All, Awe, Home and Family, Parenting & Schools, Relationships, Strengths

Strengths Have Many Faces

By on January 31, 2014 – 3:19 pm  12 Comments

Bridget Grenville-Cleave, MAPP graduate of the University of East London, is a UK-based positive psychology consultant, trainer and writer. She is author of Introducing Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide (2012), and The Happiness Equation with Dr Ilona Boniwell. She regularly facilitates school well-being programs and Positive Psychology Masterclasses for personal and professional development. Find her on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter @BridgetGC. Website. Full bio. Her articles are here.



Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. ~ Voltaire

Earlier this month I got together with several of my colleagues to share ideas about using the VIA Character Strengths at work. We talked about how acceptable the VIA Strengths are in business circles (in our experience, very), how people react to their VIA Strengths, and how we use them in our training.

We also shared examples of the ways in which we’ve seen the same strength displayed in different people. Take Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. Here are the stories of three people who have Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence among their top strengths.

Carole’s Story

Carole is a quietly confident 40-something stay-at-home mom with two kids. She comes across as pretty reserved and self-contained. When asked to talk about how Appreciation of Beauty shows up in her life, she immediately warms up with enthusiasm for her love of natural beauty, her sense of connection to the world around her, and her love of the great outdoors.

I’ve always felt more comfortable outside than I do indoors. I always wanted to be outside as a child, come rain or shine. I can remember, as a youngster,  the feeling of joy and wonder in my heart,  playing in the little wood at the end of my best friend’s garden, and my delight at seeing little woodland anemones, primroses and suchlike peeping up in the Spring, that earthy, leafy smell, and experiencing the seasons change.

When asked how Appreciation of Beauty shows up in her life now, she’s almost apologetic.  She describes the family’s weekend rambles in the countryside. She doesn’t just savor the fine views. She actively tends the countryside by picking up stray litter dropped by careless walkers or blown there by the wind.

I feel so in tune with nature that I feel compelled to look after it and keep it looking beautiful. My family thinks I’m mad but I actually enjoy it. It makes me feel I’m caring for the world.”

Mel’s Story

Mel surprised her family 20 years ago. When she finished her math degree at a top university, she went straight into the antiques restoration business.

Looking back, it was a natural step for me and it fits perfectly with my strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. As a youngster I liked nothing better than scouring jumble sales for beautiful trinkets which I collected, cleaned, and displayed in my bedroom when my friends were talking about fashion, boys, and makeup.”

“My mother used to collect china figurines when I was small, and I can still picture them all – gazing at them in their glass cabinet because we weren’t allowed to touch. I remember the day I discovered the figurine of a dancer in a junk shop – it had a crack on one side. I felt that such a beautiful piece with such intricate detail shouldn’t be consigned to the junk – I just had to restore it. It wasn’t just the beauty of the piece, it was the recognition of the hours of work it took someone to make it and paint it. And that’s how it started. Since then I just haven’t looked back.”

Mel runs her own workshop specializing in restoring 18th century figurines, vases, and tableware.

Rachel’s Story

Rachel is a successful learning and development manager in a big consulting firm. She was initially surprised that Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence was one of her top VIA strengths until she discussed it with friends.

It’s funny how sometimes you can’t see what’s under your nose, but straightaway they all said ‘Just look at the job you do, and the way you do it!’ and of course they’re right. When I run L&D workshops, I’m full of energy and enthusiasm – I love making sure that I design them to look and feel exactly right. It gives me a real buzz making the whole thing come together. And I’m always noticing new role models, people who do X or Y really well – if they’re in the business I invite them to come and talk in my workshops! It’s true that I love seeing people be the best that they can be. If the work I do helps people excel, that’s really gratifying.”
 

Have a Conversation

Strengths show up in different ways in different people. We just need to be alert to the different ways they can manifest. Discussing the VIA strengths with other people who have completed the VIA assessment is a great way of getting to know more about your own strengths and how they appear in your life, as well as finding out how they are for other people.

To get the conversation going, and find out more about each other’s strengths’ profiles, you could ask some of the following questions:

  • When do you use ____________ [your strength of X]?
  • What does this strength give you, or what does it do for you?
  • How would your friends, family or colleagues recognize this strength in you?
  • In what areas of your life do you currently use ____________ [your strength of X]?
  • How do you feel when you use this strength?
  • How else could you use this strength that would be helpful to you?
  • What else do you notice or find interesting about your top strengths?
  • How do your strengths reflect who you really are?

Having facilitated these types of strengths-based conversations hundreds of times in training and coaching, with individuals and groups, I can highly recommend giving it a try. We invite you to post a comment below about how you get on.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles by Bridget Grenville-Cleave based on conversations she had recently with colleagues about using the VIA character strengths at work. The second, Other Lenses on Strengths, describes the New Views Exercise introduced by Michelle C. Louis for helping people improve their strengths-spotting skills.

 


 

References

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Niemiec, R. (2013). Mindfulness and Character Strengths. Hogrefe.

 

Images

Nature Wallpaper courtesy of tiltti
China figurines courtesy of dumbledad
Have a conversation courtesy of svenwerk

 

12 Comments »

  • Lisa Hecht says:

    One client wanted to know the downsides of his strengths. We then had a conversation about when use of his strengths might be unhelpful (overused or not helpful in a given context), such as Humility that resulted in lack of recognition for his work. This led to several ‘aha’ moments.

  • Hi Lisa

    That’s a great observation, thank you! Reframing ‘weaknesses’ as overused strengths is a very helpful way of looking at them. I know a fabulous little exercise on looking at overused strengths which I’ll try to put into another Positive Pychology News posting.

    Warm wishes
    Bridget

  • Talk about Synchronicity! We just conducted a Training Session for our Health Coaches utilizing Positive Psychology as our foundation and Authentic Happiness Coaching as our model. We role played using the Fish Bowl venue, practicing Pleasant Life, Engaged Life, and Motivational Life exercises as well as the Authentic Happiness Questionnaires. We are now in the process of applying these techniques to our Clients, hospital employees!

    Thank your for this great article.

    Deborah Netto
    Program Manager
    C.M. Smith Health Coaches
    Hartford, CT USA

  • Hi Deborah, thanks for your comments. For those not familiar with the fish bowl technique in training, here’s a good summary: http://instructionaldesignfusions.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/fishbowls-for-training/

    You might also be interested in my next post ‘Other Lenses on Strengths’ which describes a strengths-based perspective-taking activity which can be used in training or coaching.

    Warm wishes
    Bridget

  • Judy Krings says:

    I was yet another initially astonished camper who was shocked, and I admit embarrassed, never realizing Appreciation of Excellence and Beauty was my #1 strengths. I really appreciate these vignettes. When I paused to ponder the meaning of this strength, it hit me, “Whenever I am doing therapy (I was a full time clinical psychologist then), and I feel I am taking on the stress of an anxious or severely depressed client, I pause and look up at the stunningly beautiful beach scene directly in my view. I breathe and mindful let my energy focus on the calm.” Then I could pay that ease forward to my client. What an AHA! moment of re-framing.

    Thanks for much for this wonderful post, Bridget.

  • I wonder whether leading with the word Beauty doesn’t sometimes derail people from understanding this strength. I find myself frequently reminding people that it involves appreciating excellence as well.

  • Pam Kennett says:

    I work with organisations around behaviour and change and strengths seems to be getting alot of traction. I’m thinking about how to build in strengths and rate these in performance management discussions. I’m thinking people could be rated on best use of strengths to add value – something like that… any thoughts welcome.

    As a parent I asked each of my son’s teachers to identify one of his key strengths and one area in which he has improved over the year. It is a highly academic school and Callum is somewhat dyslexic so struggles to keep up. It made the teachers look at Callum in a different, more positive way and I found some of the strengths based language appeared in his end of year report. If all parents asked this of their kid’s teachers, I think gradually the potential is there to change the language, culture and with it, the behaviour and expectations within schools.

  • Hi Judy

    Many thanks for your comments – I’m really glad you liked this post. What continually amazes me with the VIA strengths is just how flexible they are – they can be interpreted and applied in so many ways – and yet they also unite, bringing people together. So they can help us understand ourselves better, and what is important to us (and why), and also understand others better. You might also enjoy the next post which is on the topic of using strengths to see different perspectives.

    I wonder if Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is a strength we all start with – after all, small kids always say ‘wow! look at that!’ or similar – they’re continually amazed by the great things they see, hear and experience in the world (I’m reminded of Gretchen Rubin’s daughter’s comment about the dog, and gazing in the shop windows in her video ‘The years are short’), and somehow, for some of us, that strength gets lost, whereas for others, it continues and grows.

    Is there research on kids’ strengths, and how they change/adapt over the years I wonder?

    Anyway, thanks once again for your comments Judy, I really appreciate it.

    Warm wishes
    Bridget

  • Hi Kathryn, that’s a really good point – I’ve had many people say something similar. I might start referring to is as ‘Appreciation of Excellence and Beauty’ or maybe just ‘Appreciation of Excellence’ and see if it makes a difference. ‘Appreciation’ on it’s own probably wouldn’t work as it’s too much like Gratitude – any other ideas?

    Warm wishes
    Bridget

  • Hi Pam

    Thanks for your comments – you’re right about strengths getting a lot of focus, not just in business but also in schools, with the new focus on building character and resilience which the UK government is now very keen on.

    Interesting point about rating the best use of strengths – if I’m honest my immediate reaction was ‘ooh’ as opposed to ‘aha!’. I get the impression that formal measurement can be the kiss of death to many intrinsically motivated actions, and I wonder if it would be the same for strengths – turn them into something which you have to do, rather than want to do. The Strengths Use Scale (Govindji & Linley, 2007) might be worth looking at – you might be able to adapt that for performance management reviews.

    I completely agree with you regarding teaching and strengths. We’ve been very lucky that our son went to a primary school where the teachers told us his strengths – we didn’t even have to ask! But secondary school is another matter. The focus (not surprising given the government’s agenda) is solely academic. I am slightly heartened by recent news on character building, but am still nervous about the direction this will take, and the reasons for doing it. I’m hopeful that we can raise the profile for Bounce Back! which is a fabulous whole-school applied positive psychology programme – not just resilience-building, but strengths, values, behavior and what we sometimes call ‘social and emotional skills’.

    Good luck with your studies on the UEL MAPP and keep in touch!

    Warm wishes
    Bridget

  • Judy Krings says:

    Hi, Bridget and thanks for your kind reply.

    Great question about the genetics of strengths and how/why they morph. I bet the strengths guru, Ryan Niemiec, at the VIA Institute (viame.org) would know the answer. Early awe…why does it last for some of us (I used to think this was my naivete, but I have learned to appreciate and embrace it!) but diminish in quality as life progresses. Perhaps external demands, curiosity for novelty or other strengths trump early importance. Fun to ponder.

    Keep up your great PP and strengths blogs that fire me up like a rocket!

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