Become a Skilled Strengths-Spotter


    Lisa could see that Emily was struggling. Emily’s learning disability was getting the best of her. She was mentally fatigued and frustrated, not sure how to figure out the math problems being presented to her. As Emily’s tutor, Lisa could sense the frustration. It was palpable, particularly in Emily’s crunched-up facial expressions, not to mention her occasional foot stomping. Lisa decided to take a different tactic. “Let’s just pause for a moment. Stop and take a breath,” she advised. Emily was caught off guard, which tempered her frustration for the moment. “I want to point something out to you,” Lisa said. “I see so much bravery in you, Emily. You have to deal with so many challenges, but you face them all.” Emily quieted to listen, stunned by the observation. Lisa continued, “Day after day, you go to class, knowing that you’ll be facing struggles with learning new material and that you’re in a class with a teacher who doesn’t seem to understand you or offer any help. And the material gets harder and harder with every class. You know you’ll get odd looks and occasional jokes from classmates and feel the stress build. Yet you keep going, day after day, trying your best. I’m amazed by your bravery—your courage to step in and take it. You don’t even hesitate! I admire how you confront all your adversities and keep going. You inspire me to be brave in my own life, like with confronting my parents about some things.” Emily became tearful. No one had ever pointed out a strength in her so directly, and certainly not a strength like bravery. She could see the truth in what Lisa was saying. It was both accurate and powerful. To hear about ourselves through the words of others is to see ourselves in a new light. A few words of strengths-spotting in Emily were enough to point her in a different direction. Lisa continued to point out additional strengths she observed in Emily as they worked together, such as Emily’s perseverance in sticking with a difficult math problem and her honesty in being forthright about her difficulties. In turn, Emily began to spot strengths in Lisa! She pointed out Lisa’s creativity in never failing to come up with a new way of solving a math problem or helping Emily learn. Their relationship—and their work together—reached a new level.
    When spotting strengths in others, we can learn from Lisa by following the three steps she took with Emily: 1. Label the strength. Name the character strength being observed. Lisa pointed out the strength of bravery, then later spotted perseverance and honesty. 2. Give your rationale. Offer an explanation for the strength you are spotting. Note the behavioral “evidence” for your label. Lisa offered a number of examples of Emily’s bravery, such as facing the challenges of a difficult classroom with an unhelpful teacher and unkind peers. 3. Offer appreciation. Express your value for the person and their strengths. Validate their strengths use. Explain how it has a positive effect on you. Lisa described how she finds Emily’s bravery inspiring and that it might serve as a catalyst for using her own bravery with her parents. The interesting point about spotting strengths in others is that you can practice it anywhere, anytime. You might be reading a novel, watching television, posting on Facebook or Instagram, sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture, or e-mailing a friend at work. You can hone your skill and look for the positive, searching for the character strengths in the person or in the story’s character. When you are looking for potential strengths, there are some clues—both verbal and nonverbal—that can help you detect that a strength might be present. When one or more of these are displayed, it can serve as a green light for you to pay close attention and listen for potential strengths. Nonverbal clues for strengths Improved posture Eyes light up Increased eye contact General lift in bodily energy More frequent hand gestures Body leaning forward More open stance (uncrossing arms/legs) Smiling/laughing Expression of positive emotions (such as joy) Verbal clues for strengths Speech becomes more rapid/excited Speech becomes less rapid/excited Speech becomes more/less slowed/ methodical/reflective Increased use of positive words Improved clarity of speech Stronger/firmer voice Wider vocabulary More confidence in speaking Speaking to various details of a story/situation Seeing Strengths in Others Spotting strengths in others can be particularly engaging and energizing—for you and the other person! Research studies show that we experience increased well-being when we have strength-based conversations, such as sharing positive news that happens in our day (Gable et al. 2004; Reis et al. 2010). So you will likely benefit from extending your habit of perceiving strengths to other people. Practice observing any person—a family member, neighbor, or coworker. You can start to fine-tune your observation skills with people you don’t know first, like figures in the news or characters on a TV show or in a movie or book. A colleague and I honed our own strengthsspotting skills by cataloging and discussing over 1,500 movies to observe, understand, and witness character strengths in action (Niemiec and Wedding 2014). For any person in your life or in the media, what character strengths are they displaying most strongly? How can you tell they are using a character strength—what verbal or nonverbal clues do they express? Explore a few examples below, from a variety of life situations. Don’t forget to offer a rationale or explanation for each strength you spot.
    Wadifa Club
    writer and blogger, founder of Dog food planet .

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