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Are Your Strengths Colliding With Others?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 16/03/2016 Michelle McQuaid
BATTLE OF THE SEXES © Fotosearch via Getty Images BATTLE OF THE SEXES

When it comes to getting along with others at work sometimes we just click, and sometimes we completely collide. In fact researchers have found that getting along with our colleagues can be one of the most stressful parts of our job. And yet, studies suggest that other people are our best guarantee of lowering our levels of stress and improving our focus, engagement and wellbeing at work.
But let's be honest sometimes getting along with people at work is easier said than done. Almost everyone I ask about his or her workplace relationships has at least one story of a difficult manager or colleague that made their jobs miserable. So how might our strengths -- those things we're good at and actually enjoy doing -- make this a little easier?
The truth is when it comes to nurturing more positive relationships at work, our strengths -- in particular our character strengths which are aligned to the values that we hold -- may make it easier, and harder, depending on how we apply them.
For example, researchers have found that developing the character strengths of teamwork, leadership, fairness and kindness are associated with having better relationships at work. They help you to be loyal to the group, encourage others to get things done, give people a fair chance and make it more likely you'll help others out.
That said, as an introvert who spent most of my career high in "head strengths" like curiosity and creativity and lacking "people-focused strengths" like kindness and teamwork, I've found simply drawing on my top strengths -- like getting curious about what people enjoy in their work has helped to make my relationships more engaging and energizing. Over time however, I have also intentionally chosen to invest more energy into strengths like kindness to help balance me out and this has improved my relationships.
Other researchers caution that our character strengths can come with a social cost. Because they are so closely aligned with our values, it's possible others won't appreciate our strengths in the same way that we do. For example, a person high in humility may be viewed by some as a humble team player or criticized by others for their lack of confidence.
I remember working with a team member whose top strength was honesty and whenever she encountered colleagues who were not as direct in their communications as she valued, she walked away believing they were hiding something. Now in some cases this may have been true, but as we experimented she found that when Honesty was a lesser strength for other people, it didn't always mean they were liars, only that they weren't as forthright and blunt and she liked. You can imagine how this insight made it easier to trust others and improved her relationships.
Finally some practitioners -- myself included -- believe our strengths can collide with others. It can be frustrating when others don't share our strengths, and downright annoying when the strengths they value clash with our own.
I once found myself working on a project with a boss who was a complete stick in the mud. It seemed her favorite word was "no" whenever I used my strength of creativity to put forward a new idea. In a desperate attempt to improve the relationship, I started looking for her strengths and realized she had to be high in prudence which values making plans and sticking to them. Each time I used my strength of creativity to suggest ways of improving our approach, it clashed with her strength of prudence, which was keeping the plan on track.
This insight helped to build a bridge of empathy and respect that enabled me to talk with her about how we might each better play to our strengths on this project. Now we didn't suddenly become best friends, but it did take the personal animosity and frustration out of our relationship as we found better ways to work together.
So what can you do practically when it comes to using your strengths to improve your relationships? Here are three approaches I've found helpful:

  • Develop your strengths: It helps to be aware what your strengths are and to develop them each day in ways that improve your relationships. You may wish to intentionally cultivate strengths like Teamwork, Leadership, Fairness and Kindness or find ways to use your top strengths to get more people focused.
  • Tune into your strengths bias: It's important to be mindful that just because you value your top strengths it doesn't mean everyone else will. Be aware of how your strengths may bias your conclusions about other's behavior and that their bias for particular strengths may mean that they don't value your strengths in the same way you do, especially when you're overplaying them. Remember part of successfully developing your strengths is discovering how to use the right strength, in the right amount, at the right time and for the right outcomes.
  • Value the strengths in others: In your most challenging relationships you may find it helps to start looking for the strengths in others. When are they engaged, energized and enjoying what they're doing? Which strengths can you see them using? Might these strengths be clashing with your own? Could this help you have a conversation -- or to quietly find ways -- that helps you to respect and value what you each do best and remove the personal animosity from your interactions?

How can develop your strengths today to improve your most challenging relationships at work?

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