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Too much of a good thing?

Updated: May 3

When strengths have a negative impact


"Alex, you're so pushy!"

"Alex, you're being really bossy!"

"Alex, enough already. We all know that you don't want to eat at that restaurant. Will you please stop going on about it!"


All the comments above are real. They have all been said to me at least once in my lifetime, and some of them more than once. This isn't a post about how to give feedback so I'm not to going to talk about how these comments made me feel....I'll leave that for another day.


This is actually a post about what happens when your strengths are overdone or over played or used inappropriately for the situation.


What are strengths?


First, I need to take a moment to clarify what I mean by strengths. I use the term based on the positive psychology definition of strengths, which are the things that energise us. In normal language people often talk about strengths as something they are good at. In my world a strength is something that energises you, drives you, motivates you, brings an element of enjoyment to your life, it is something that you can get happily lost in, where time flies as you are so engrossed in it. You don't have to be good at something to love it (if you've ever heard me sing you'll know this to be true!).


Examples of strengths


To really explain my point I'm going to share with you some of my own strengths. One of my strengths is leading. I love taking charge of things. I like being the boss, I enjoy helping and showing others the way to do things. Another strength of mine is enthusiasm. I get really passionate about certain subjects and will happily talk for hours if you'll sit and listen. Another strength of mine is flexibility. I love change, I don't shy away from it. I like having a variety of tasks to do. If I had to pick one job and stick to it, I'd really struggle.


Strengths at their best


When I'm using my strengths I get into the 'zone'. Psychologists call this a 'flow' state when you are challenged in a positive way that is productive and engaging. Give me a situation that calls for leadership and I'll happily step in. Whether that's my kid's school's cookie baking activity or a social group that are trying to meet up, I'll take charge and I'll enjoy doing it!


And in an ideal world, we'd all have jobs and careers and activities that allows us to use our strengths and bring the best of ourselves to our workplaces and communities.


Overplayed strengths


The challenge with strengths is that they are uniquely part of you. So when things are good and strengths are being used optimally then you feel like you're winning at life.


But when you're under pressure your strengths can go from making you great, to making you a great big pain to others. Because they are part of your personality, your make-up, they are the things that are most difficult to hide or mask.


Every strength, when it's overplayed can become a weakness or something that causes a negative reaction.


What do I mean by that? Consider a strength of self-confidence. When that's overdone it comes across as arrogance. A normally self-confident individual, put under the pressure of a job interview might start to come across as arrogant and lose out on the job opportunity.

Consider a strength of optimism. When that's overdone it can lead to someone being unrealistic. (I have a strength of optimism and believe me when I say that I have a strong tendency to create unrealistic budgets!).


In fact, if you think of any negative judgemental word to describe a person, the chances are that at the heart of it lies a strength overdone:


Persuasive = pushy

Critical thinking = naysayer

Creativity = creating unworkable and impractical ideas

Leading = bossy

Common sense = refusal to consider creative solutions

Efficiency = rigidly sticking to processes that don't work

Results focused = getting an outcome at any cost


I could go on, but I won't, you get the point.


Negative impact of strengths overdone


If you're wondering if your own strengths have ever been overplayed it's worth thinking back to a time in your work or career when you received some feedback that you felt was unfair, or feedback that you didn't understand. The kind of feedback that makes you want to justify your actions. Those situations are likely to have been caused by your strengths being overplayed.


All of us can overdo our strengths when we're under pressure. And this is the thing that will hurt or damage our reputations and careers more than any lack of technical skill or experience. Nobody wants to work with the highly capable but toxic colleague. And strengths overdone can really be toxic.


Think of someone you have worked with, now or in the past, that just seemed to irritate you intensely. If you analyse the situation can you see, perhaps, where that person may have been overdoing their strengths?


When I'm working with individuals and teams I spend a lot of time talking about strengths overplayed. In my opinion it is the one of the things most people can learn to understand, and manage, that will a significantly positive impact on their work and careers and relationships with others.


Conclusion


To sum up, yes, you can have too much of a good thing. A strength overdone can lead to unintended negative consequences and impacts.


We all experience times when we are under pressure. By really understanding ourselves and our strengths we can start to manage our strengths appropriately to each situation.


If you're looking for help to identify and manage your own or your team's strengths, get in touch via alex@alexkotsos.com






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