In this episode, Lisa answers the question: What should you do when two talents contradict each other? Don’t worry — you’ll be fine if you work on situational fluency and communication.
Resources of the Episode
You'll find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our Strengths Resources page.
What Should You Do When Two Talents Contradict Each Other?
This question came in when someone in a virtual StrengthsFinder training said, “Uh oh, my Top 5 might be bad news because two of my strengths are opposites.”
I said, “Sounds interesting, tell me more.” He clarified by saying that his Ideation is the opposite of his Consistency talent theme because Ideation makes him come up with constantly new ways of doing things while his Consistency talent theme makes him want to do things the same every time to be efficient and clear.
One of the beautiful things about virtual events is that they’re often big. So with 250 people in the same training room, it was possible to find someone else with those two talent themes.
I asked the other person, “How do these two work on you?” She said, “I’m more into fairness than anything else. So Consistency drives me to treat people the same. Consistency bosses around Ideation and tells it what to work on. So my Ideation’s job is to find more and more ways to be fair in every part of life and work.”
From that conversation, you can see the two important things to explore in your own Top 5 and in the Top 5 of your team members so that you can be extra effective when you work together. It comes down to (1) Situational Fluency and (2) Communication.
Using Seemingly Opposite Talent Themes For Situational Fluency
By situational fluency, I mean being able to bring your best to a situation or challenge that comes up at work. Let’s use Deliberative and Activator as the example StrengthsFinder talent themes because they’re simple to understand, even if you haven’t done anything yet with CliftonStrengths.
You’ll often hear people using a car metaphor to describe Deliberative as a talent that likes to put on the brakes — to stop or to think carefully about risks before acting. You’ll often hear about Activator as a talent theme that likes to push the accelerator and get going.
Now think about your own talents in a tough situation at work. You’ve put 20 million dollars into a product launch that failed. Everyone thought it would bring about 100 million dollars in revenue last year, and instead, you lost money.
Half of the team wants to kill the product and cut the losses. Half of the team wants to tweak it and try to fix some issues before doing something so drastic. Meanwhile, you’re bleeding out cash and the board expects a plan by next week. Your team has been spinning in circles.
Now think about your personal talent themes. Which ones make you feel cautious? Which ones help you feel brave? Which ones put you into high collaboration mode? Which ones make you go into deep thinking?
Depending on the situation, you might need different things at different times. So, if you think, “Yikes, I have two strengths that can’t really work together well” — then dig into it more because, instead, you can think of it as having more tools for a given situation.
For example, go back to the car metaphor. You have headlights on the exterior and you have dash lights inside of the car. Think of those two as if they're talent themes. If it gets dark outside, you turn on the headlights so you can see. And in the dark, you don’t need so much of those interior lights, so they go dim. Otherwise they’re distracting. They’re too much for the situation.
Your talents are the same. In one situation, you turn it up. In another situation you turn it down. In some cases, both are in use, but one is bright and one is dim. Think of your talents like that. You can control how bright or dim they are. You can bring the right light to the situation. That’s situational fluency. Rather than bringing all of you all the time, you bring the part that serves the situation.
So watch for this. Next time you face a tricky challenge or debate like the example I gave you about killing the product, do a quick, mental run-through of your talent themes to consciously decide which ones (and how much of them) to bring to the situation.
Communicating About Seemingly Opposite Talent Themes So People Understand Your Intent And Actions
After that Ideation + Consistency example came up in the chat box in the virtual StrengthsFinder training, the next comment was, “Don’t worry. My report tells me that I have dual personalities.”
What’s funny is that this comment comes up in nearly every workshop. It’s because people imagine these paradoxes inside themselves and they realize the outside world may not be able to make sense of it. Most of us have a bunch of these. I can think of lots of personal paradoxes.
- Sometimes I’m a workaholic. Sometimes I’m a playaholic.
- Sometimes I’m a foodie food snob. Sometimes I eat green beans out of a can.
- Sometimes I’m a luxury buyer. Sometimes I go to thrift stores.
You have things like this too. And you can make sense of them. Yet to an outsider, they can be confusing. If you have the Deliberative talent theme and you love to be the one who makes people stop and think before they do something rash, it might be confusing when 25% of the time your Activator is talking and you’re the one in the room saying, “C’mon, we’ve kicked this around enough. We could have executed on all three possible solutions already. Let’s go.”
So if you fear you might be perceived as “of two minds” or someone who seems to act inconsistently, be sure to bring it up in conversation. This is why I offered this section on communicating your paradoxes. Of course, before you communicate it, you need to be able to understand it yourself.
For example, I talked to a person recently after a strengths-based leadership speech. She said this was insightful because her Activator shows up constantly in meetings. When there’s small talk, she wants it to hurry up and be done. When people schedule three meetings and you have meeting deja vu because the same things keep coming up over and over again, her Activator is going crazy. It’s dying for a little less talk and a lot more action.
She also has the Deliberative talent. It doesn’t take up many thoughts in her head during meetings. But when she has a big decision to make, it’s prominent. When she needs to consider a complex situation, she leans on Deliberative heavily.
Her takeaway was that her direct reports hear her saying, “Let’s do this” in meetings. And when she writes emails about big decisions, they hear her say “Let’s slow down for a sec.” She realized that’s why they see her as indecisive but she doesn’t see herself that way. And she left that event knowing that the simple act of communicating this seemingly opposite viewpoint is exactly what her team needs in order to make sense of her two modes.
To bring it all together, here are two action steps for you as you think through your personal paradoxes:
1) Apply Situational Fluency. Pick a talent and think about when it needs to be the bright headlight you lead with and what situation calls for the dimmers. Know this in advance so that you can bring the situation what it needs.
2) Communicate So Your Paradoxes Do Not Confuse People. Spend the week watching for your potential paradox-perceptions. Where might you look like you’re of two minds? How can you make sense of these two things that live in perfect harmony inside of your head so that others around you know what to expect of you and where these two perspectives come from?
Here's A Full Transcript Of The Show
You're listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings, and I got to tell you, it's hard to find something more energizing and productive, than using your natural talents every day at work.
Today's question came in when someone in a virtual StrengthsFinder training said, ‘Oh, my Top 5 might be bad news, because two of my strengths are opposites of each other. So, it was great. I got to ask them, ‘Hey, well, that sounds interesting. Tell me more about that.’ So, he clarified by saying that his Ideation to him is the opposite of Consistency because the Ideation talent theme, makes them come up with constantly new ways of doing things, while his Consistency talent theme, makes him want to do things the same every time, so that he's efficient and clear and fair.
Now, one of the beautiful things about virtual events is that they're often big. So, with 250 people in the same room at the same time, it was easy to find somebody else that had these two talent themes, even when Consistency is pretty uncommonly found. So, we found the exact same combination and I asked her, ‘Hey, how did these two work on you?’ And one of the reasons I asked that question is, those are not two talent themes that often come up from people as opposites. And she said, ‘I'm more into, fairness than anything else, and Consistency for me is all about how I treat people. And I would say, as far as the talent themes go, the Consistency talent theme kind of bosses around the Ideation talent theme. It tells it what to make ideas about.
So, my Ideation’s job is kind of about finding more and more ways to be fair in every part of life and work. So, from that conversation, you can see, there are two things that are really important to explore in your own Top 5, and in the Top 5 of your team members, so that you can be extra effective when you work together. And it comes down to one, the situational fluency, and to the communication around these things that come up when you feel like your Top 5, have contradictions of each other inside of it. Or you feel like you're a walking paradox, or you feel like your strength might be opposites of each other.
So, let's talk about situational fluency first. And by situational fluency, what I mean is being able to bring your best to a situation, or being able to bring your best to a challenge that comes up for you at work. For the rest of this episode, let's just use Deliberative and Activator as the example StrengthsFinder talent themes, because they're pretty simple to understand, even if you haven't done anything with Clifton Strengths yet. And you're not even familiar with Strengths Finder, you'll be able to understand and follow the examples with no problem.
Now, if you have been around the world of StrengthsFinder, for many years, you've certainly heard the metaphor that people use with the car where they say people with the Deliberative talent theme lead, kind of like the brakes. You put the brakes on things, you slow down, you think for a minute, you want to make sure that you're careful. And you've probably heard the opposite about the Activator talent theme where it's more like the accelerator. It's the ‘get up and go’. It's the ‘let's do this!’, ‘let's get moving!’
Now think about your own talent themes if you apply them to a tough situation at work. Here's a scenario. I see things like this coming up. You've put $20 million as a company into an important product launch, and the product launch failed. Everybody was expecting something like it bringing in 100 million dollars in revenue last year. But instead, you actually lost money on this product line. Half the team wants to kill the product and cut the losses. Half the team wants to try to tweak it and fix it and work out some issues before doing something so drastic.
Meanwhile, of course, the longer you wait, the longer you debate, you're bleeding out cash. And oh, by the way, the Board of Directors has requested a plan by the end of next week. So, whether or not you've had something this exact with a product decision, your team has been spinning in circles about something your team has had a situation where people are divided and they disagree.
Now think about your talent themes that you have personally and think about how one can make you feel or act or prefer things in one direction, whereas, another talent theme simultaneously can make you feel something else. So which talent theme do you have that makes you feel a bit cautious and contrast that with one that might help you feel brave. Which one puts you in high collaboration mode compared with which one makes you stop and be more reflective and individually do some deep thinking.
And see, depending on the situation, you might need different things at different times. So, you might be able to use all of those things, being cautious being brave, being collaborative, being deep thinker individually. But often people will get their StrengthsFinder lineup, and they'll be like, ‘Yo, I have two strengths and they can't work together. These are opposites.’
Well, then just stop, don't worry, don't panic, dig into it more, because you can actually think of this as a moment where you go, ‘yeah, this is cool, because I have a couple of different tools I can use’. And depending on the situation, I can pull out the one that works for the situation.
So, for example, go back to the car metaphor. Now imagine you have headlights on the exterior of a car, and you have dash lights in the interior of a car. Think of those two things like their talent themes. If it gets dark outside, you turn the headlights on so you can see. Also, in the dark though, you don't need a lot of light in the interior. So those lights actually go dimmer. Otherwise, they're distracting. They're going to create a problem for you. They're too much for the situation.
And your talent themes are the same. In one situation, you turn them up. You put on the bright lights. In another situation, you turn it down, you put on the dimmer. In some cases, both are in use at the same time, just like the bright lights and the dimmer lights, but it depends if it's the exterior or the interior. Think of your talents like that, you can control how bright or dim they are. You can bring the right light to the right situation. That's what situational fluency is all about. Rather than trying to bring 100% of every talent theme to every situation every time full force. No, you bring the part of you that serves the situation the best.
So, watch for this. Next time you face a tricky challenge, or a tricky debate, like the situation I gave you, as an example, the meeting deciding whether to kill a product or something complex and hairy at work, do a quick mental run through of your talent themes, so that you can consciously decide which ones and how much of those you will bring to that situation.
[7:06] Now on to the other topic on opposites that I mentioned, I mentioned communication. This one is all about perception. You want to be communicating about seemingly opposite talent themes so that people can better understand your intent and your actions. So, they're not confused by these things that might seem like opposites of each other. So, after that Ideation and Consistency example, came up in the chatbox, in that virtual StrengthsFinder training, the next comment was, ‘Oh, don't worry, my report tells me that I have dual personalities.’ And what's hilarious about that is, that comment comes up some version of it, in just about everything that I do every workshop. And it's because people imagine these paradoxes inside themselves. And then they have this moment where they go, ‘Oh, yeah, the outside world may not be able to make any sense of that’. And most of us have a bunch of these. I can think of lots of personal paradoxes. And you can do this way outside of the strengths world. Just think about your everyday life and some things about you that may seem odd. If someone who didn't know you well, didn't know your intent and didn't know the depths of you, they may not be able to reconcile how those both show up on you.
So, for example, I am both a workaholic and a play-a-holic. Oh, that could be confusing for people. I am both a foodie food snob wanting only the best foods and ingredients and chef-created meals, but I am also the same person who eats green beans out of a can for efficiency when I'm working from home. who would know how to take me and what I'm going to prefer? Sometimes, I'm a luxury buyer, and I will spend a lot of money on something in order to get convenience or the exact thing that I want. And I don't even look for a deal, I just look for exactly what I want. I don't care what I pay. But sometimes I go to thrift stores and I get excited that I can find a shirt for $2.
How do you know which one of those versions of me you're going to get or what's important to me in the moment? That could make no sense to someone else. So, you have things like this too, and you can make sense of them if you think of them and kind of pick them apart. But to an outsider, they could be really confusing. So if you have the Deliberative talent theme, and you love to be the one who makes people stop and think before they do something rush, it might be confusing if you also have Activator and 25% of the time, your Activator’s talking and it's the one in the room suddenly saying, ‘Come on, guys, we've kicked this around and off, let's go. We could have executed on all three possible solutions already. Let's do this!’
That would be weird for them if they're used to you saying, ‘Hold on, let's stop. Let's think about this. There's some risks we haven't considered yet. Let's think this through.’ And then the next day you’re the other guy. So, if you fear you might be perceived as that having two minds or as somebody who seems to act inconsistently, be sure to bring this up in conversation.
That's why I called the section communication. It's why these paradoxes can be effective. But they can also be confusing. And before you can communicate it, you need to be able to understand it yourself.
Here's an example of how that kind of unfolds as your understanding yourself. So, I talked to a person recently. She was a manager, and I'm delivering a strengths-based leadership speech. So, she comes up after the speech to tell me how insightful this was, because she has Activator. And she knows that her Activator shows up in meetings. When people schedule three meetings, and she's having a meeting deja vu because people are talking about the same thing they already talked about, and things keep coming up over and over again, her Activator’s going crazy. She's dying for a little less talk and a lot more action in these meetings.
[11:06] Okay, a little side note. We are just cracking myself up again, because I'm constantly saying sentences where song lyrics come out of that, you know, that make you think of that old Toby Keith song. Now you're gonna have it in your head all day. “Little less talk, if you please”. Oh, but now that I think about that, you don't really want to make that your Activator theme song because that's not exactly about work. So bad idea.
But back to the woman at the speech. So, she also has the Deliberative talent theme. But the Deliberative talent theme doesn't take a lot of thoughts in her head. While she's in meetings, where the Deliberative talent theme really shows up for her is when she's making complicated decisions. So, a lot of times, those are outside of meetings, she's doing the deep thinking, and she's getting into the big hairy stuff. So, what she said is in meetings, people see my Activator mantras, ‘Let's go! Let's do this! Let's move on. Let's get going!’
But when she emails them, she's offline. She's thinking more deeply. She has big stuff to tackle, then they hear her saying, ‘Let's slow down, let's consider.’ And those sound like two different people. And in fact, as a manager, she's confusing people about what she expects. She's confusing people about what she prefers. She's confusing people about what she values. And so, her big insight from the speech was that, Ooh, her direct reports hear her saying, ‘Let's do this in meetings.’
And then every time she writes an email, and they hear her say, ‘what slowed down?’, they are viewing her as an indecisive manager. So, she's having this insight into speech, thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, I'm losing credibility. And I'm not indecisive at all. But they see me as indecisive because they don't understand the difference in those two, and what situation is bringing out what part of me.’
So, she left that event and she knew that the simple act of communicating this and having a conversation about these two things about her and her viewpoint, and her approach would be really important. And that she would also open up that conversation, to try to understand the same things about her team members, because most of us have this kind of paradoxes inside of us. And so, having the conversation about how they might show up in the team could also be really important.
So, to bring this all together, here are two action steps for you to think through, as you think through your potential personal paradoxes.
So, one, on the topic of situational fluency, pick a talent theme, just one of the Top 5, and just consider it. When does this thing need to be the bright headlight that you lead with? What situations that are common that you come up with at work are ones that call for it to lead, and to be loud, and to be in front? And then what situations that are common for you at work call for that same talent theme to have the dimmers on or even the lights turned off.
It's good to think about this in advance and just use it with really common situations that you experience in work so that you can bring the situation exactly what it needs, rather than bringing it your habits. And sometimes your habits serve you and sometimes they don't. But this is a more thoughtful way to go about how you're modulating those talent themes when you're bringing a lot of it or a little of it or none of it.
Then the second one to bring it all together and give you the other action step is on the communication topic. This one takes a little more time. So, spend the whole week. Just watch for your potential paradoxes or the potential perceptions of the paradoxes. It's kind of fun and fascinating. You know, you can do the silly ones like me, saying I'm part foodie, and part green bean eater out of a can. That's just kind of weird stuff. So, there are probably some weird paradoxes about you, but also, what are the behaviors at work that look this way, and just collect all of those for a week and see where you might look like you're of two minds. And then try to think about how you can make sense of those for other people. Because you can make harmony in your mind out of those.
[15:03] But you have to be able to figure out how that actually works and look so that you can communicate it clearly to other people. And that will help them know what to expect of you and where those two perspectives come from.
[15:14] So with that, I'll leave you to figure out your own and bring this up in a team conversation, because remember, consciously using your strengths at work will strengthen your performance at work. So, claim your talents, even your paradoxes and share them with the world.