Understanding and applying our own strengths is the first step to cover in any workshop covering the Values in Action character strengths.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles about using character strengths to help people understand themselves and others better. For the first article, see Strengths Have Many Faces.
But what can you do to help people understand the strengths of others? How can you help them learn how to use different strengths as lenses to see things from different points of view?
Here’s one fabulous technique, adapted from Michelle C. Louis to enable people to do just that. At the same time, it strengthens relationships.
One caveat though: It works best when people are already familiar with the 24 VIA strengths, so don’t do it as an introductory exercise.
Steps in the New Views Exercise
- Explain that this exercise is all about viewing situations through different strengths as if they were lenses in order to understand better how strengths influence the way people think and behave. Being able to understand strengths other than our own is an important skill and helps build empathy and connection.
- Divide participants into small groups and give each group a handout.
- On each handout write different situations relevant to the group you are working with. For example, relevant situations for a parent support group might be helping a child with homework or talking to a teen about sex and drugs.
- Next to each situation, write a different VIA strength for each group. Appropriate strengths lenses for the above situations might be:
Situation Group A Group B Group C Group D Parent helping a child
Leadership Curiosity Creativity Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
Parent talking to a teen
about sex and drugs
Prudence Honesty Self-regulation Curiosity
- Ask groups to spend 10-15 minutes answering questions that are relevant to the chosen situation. For example, you might use the questions below for a parent support group.
- What goal(s) might parents with this strength have in this situation?
- What might their main concerns be?
- What questions might they ask their child or teen?
- What might they do in this situation, or how might they behave?
New Views – Debrief
Go through each situation, inviting comments and observations from each group in turn. Compare and contrast the responses emerging from different strength lenses.
Encourage participants to notice the range of responses to the same situation, and ask how they can apply strengths perspective-taking in their own lives to improve their relationships and better appreciate and value other people.
An Example of Different Strengths Lenses
To help you see how this technique might work in practice, here’s a summary of the discussion about parental behavior generated in a recent group which considered the second situation.
Situation: Parents talking to a teen about sex and drugs
Prudence lens: Probably had already had all these conversations! If not, highlight all the risks. Try to discourage the teen from experimenting. Might give the teen some ground-rules about what is acceptable and not acceptable.
Honesty lens: Tell the teen about their own experiences and how they have impacted their lives. Encourage an open dialogue with the teen, so s/he feels able to talk about any concerns.
Self-regulation lens: Encourage the teen to focus on school/ college work instead! Might give them some rules to abide by, such as who they can see, where they can hang out, and so on.
Curiosity lens: Might not give any advice, instead ask lots of questions and get the teen to reach his/her own conclusions about what would work best.
Ready to Go?
You can of course vary this exercise by changing the situations you want people to discuss and by adding different strengths lenses. Do let us know how you get on.
Louis, M. C. (2013). Strengths: Using a strengths approach to build perspective-taking capacity. In J. J. Froh & A. C. Parks (Eds.), Activities for Teaching Positive Psychology: A Guide for Instructors, (pp. 23-28). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. Abstract.
Lopez, S. & Louis, M. C. (2009). The principles of strengths-based education. Journal of College and Character, 10(4), 1-8.
Niemiec, R. (2013). Mindfulness and Character Strengths. Hogrefe.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.