Many professionals, whether in business, academics, military, government, or non-profit organizations have taken personality or personal style assessments that give them a snapshot of their general characteristics. In today’s affirming environment, some assessments focus only on our strengths, which is important because all too often we obsess about our weakness or shortcomings. Being aware of our strengths enables us to leverage those attributes to enhance our effectiveness, productivity, and self-concept.
As a coin has two sides, our strength may harbor a potential weakness that can undermine our success. One way in which a strength can begin to have a negative effect is if we overuse it. For example, you may be a person who is creative and articulate. You have good ideas, and you think well on your feet. In meetings, you are typically the first person with the answers, and everyone seems to go along with your suggestions because, over time, no one challenges you or disagrees. Don’t be too sure that silence is agreement. You may be talking so much in meetings that other attendees feel that it’s not worth trying to bring their own ideas to the table.
Or, you may be a person who is patient, empathic, and forgiving. You believe in second chances. These are all great qualities, but taken to the extreme in the workplace, they can translate to leniency, avoiding responsibility, and lack of accountability in those whom you lead.
In some cases, our strengths may appear as weaknesses because they don’t play well with someone whose personality is significantly different from ours and who has a dissimilar personal style. You may pride yourself on being friendly and connecting well with others—often finding out a great deal about someone within a few minutes of meeting that person. These strengths serve you well in your role as a salesperson, and with other gregarious people, but the approach may overwhelm, intimidate, and even anger a person who is more reserved and who doesn’t care to reveal personal details until a strong trust level is established. Someone who comes on too strong, too quickly may strike that personality type as phony, invasive, and overbearing.
How can you avoid overusing your strengths or counteracting a negative perception that sees your assets as liabilities? Here are some guidelines to help you avoid some self-sabotaging pitfalls.
Assess the Results of Overusing your Strengths to the Extreme
Candid responses can become blunt and rude. Confidence can become arrogance. Hands-on and supportive can become micromanaging. Optimistic may morph into unrealistic. Think about your outstanding traits and identify the circumstances under which they might get out of control. Do you overuse a strength when you are under stress or when things seem to be going extremely well? Do you find that you rely too heavily on a strength around certain people or in certain situations? Come up with a plan to offset this behavior.
For example, if you talk too much in team meetings or make too many decisions, avoid speaking up until one or two other people have contributed their ideas. Use your creativity to build on someone else’s suggestions rather than always pushing for your original thought.
If you have a trusted colleague who will give it to you straight, tell that person that you are working on managing certain characteristics and ask that person to let you know when you seem to be taking an attribute to the extreme.
Pay Attention to Other’s Reactions
Become adept at watching how other people react to you when you are exhibiting a dominant strength. When you burst into a room, full of energy and enthusiasm, what is the microsecond expression that you see on people’s faces. Do they seem delighted or dismayed? Does their body language seem receptive and engaged or detached? Do they make strong eye contact or do they look away?
Let’s revisit the example of the person who is interested in people and wants to find out a lot about someone. How does the other person react to questions about his or her personal life and situation? Does he respond quickly and ask questions in return? Or, does she respond with one-word answers and seem uncomfortable with where the conversation is going? Does she avoid seeking information about you in return? You will receive plenty of clues from others if you know what to look for and focus on what often unspoken communication is telling you.
When in Doubt, Aim for a More Neutral Approach
If you aren’t familiar with the people or the situation, try to find a middle ground for your demeanor. If you are a high-energy, effusive, talkative person, tone it down a bit until you can get a sense of the personalities and, in some cases, the culture. On the other hand, if you are naturally quiet, standoffish, and detached, make an effort to be more engaging and forthcoming. Assess the mood of the room and raise your energy level to be more in keeping with others’ conduct. Don’t push it to the point that you feel uncomfortable or inauthentic, but create some synergy with the climate of the environment. In general, bring your personal style toward a middle ground that can work well with a variety of personality behaviors.
The Bottom Line
Our personal styles are as unique as our fingerprints, and we can’t adjust everything about ourselves to please everyone. However, avoiding both overusing a strength to the extreme and excessively emphasizing a particular personality trait to someone who doesn’t share or even recognize that trait as a strength can contribute significantly to our success and strengthen our relationships.