First Step: Get People Talking About Strengths

What's the first step after the CliftonStrengths assessment? 

The StrengthsFinder Test, StrengthsFinder training, and the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book are all a wealth of resources for uncovering what your top talent themes are, and how you can apply them. 

After your team gets their results, the next step by many teams is to focus on learning about each of the 34 teams. They pour over the definitions, and want to learn about the tool. Yet actually, there's a better way to kick off this process.

In this episode, Lisa Cummings and guest co-host Joseph Dworak emphasize the importance of having strengths-focused conversations with your team.

If you're getting started with strengths and you're wondering what the next step is, well..., it's simpler than you think. The most important step is to get them talking about their strengths.

They already know themselves pretty well. This tool gives them a lens to think through, yet the wisdom is already inside of each person. The CliftonStrengths assessment is more like a prompting tool to help them remember what they're like when they're operating at their best.

Learn more from their conversation in the video version. Here's the full transcript:

Lisa: 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 today, we have a co-host here. Joseph is here with me to talk to you about getting the team talking about strengths.

Joseph: It’s so good to be here Lisa. This is super fun.

Lisa: So good to have you back. Now I want to shower some praise upon you. You actually changed the way I think about training and facilitation.

So years ago when I met you, we were with a bunch of other strengths practitioners, and you said something... We were just kind of talking about our approach and you said something in a way that wasn't intended to be an earth-shattering moment, but it struck me and it hasn't left, which is: when you get people started with strengths, one of the things that you think is really important is to get them talking about their own strengths, or their own natural talents, straight away.

And as you were saying it I was kind of auditing myself and at the time I was thinking, “Ooh, you know, I was doing a lot of virtual training — this was probably five years ago I bet when we first had this conversation and I was doing a lot of virtual training — but because the time was short, it was 90 minutes, I remember thinking, 'I need to do a lot of output. I need to get people to answer quickly but move on to the next point.' And it was not getting them really thinking on and talking on their strengths in the way that I had in an in-person session."

So talk to us about that approach. Why do you think it's important to get someone talking about strengths from the get-go? How can they talk about their own natural talents before they know all the definitions and they know all the nitty-gritty details and philosophy?

Joseph: Oh well, first off, thanks. I'm glad that something I said resonated. Never know when something will hit, so that's awesome. I remember when I first started facilitating strengths discussions and introducing people to the tool, it was around 2001. I remember specifically, I went through the tool myself in 2000 and then I was certified and started doing it.

In those early years I did a lot of, “I have to get through the material.” And I realized, over time, even in 5-6 years of doing it, it was like, it was less about getting through the material than actually having quality interactions. It was more about getting participants talking about strengths first.

And just because we're getting through the material, that doesn't mean it was quality. And so I think I realized that as I was maturing as a facilitator/consultant of the tool, I started realizing that the more people were letting their guard down, and just even at a really basic level talking about how they were wired and what they preferred, it just made it easier for them because, if they don't know themselves, it's hard to know the team.

And almost every situation that I was in, they wanted to get to the team stuff like, “Okay I've mastered my strengths." 

And it would be like, “No, you haven't really mastered your strengths, like, you don't even know all 5 of yours backwards and forwards." Knowing them doesn't mean knowing the definitions, it's more about processing the stuff on the report. And that happens by talking about strengths. 

So I think, just getting up that talent piece, the building blocks of all strengths and themes, the talents of, you know, I like checking a box off when I do a task and eventually that leads to some form of Achiever right? And so I think it was just moving away from trying to get through a number of strengths activities that I had to do, and worrying more about the quality of the experience for that individual and that team. 

The other thing is that you know we have assessment or psychometric du jour and it's, you know, everybody wants to try the next one. They say, “Oh, we already did Strengthsfinder, we want to do Myers-Briggs, and we did we did Myers-Briggs, now we want to try DiSC." Or whatever it is.

And I would say, “But you still haven't gone deep on strengths. And so, look, if you don't want to use StrengthsFinder, that’s fine. Then do Myers-Briggs but whatever you do, really stick with it. That's where you’ll really know it, and you'll learn surprising things about yourselves.” 

And people don't like that. They just want to take a new test and go on with new things. To do the work and stay on it takes a lot of effort. So I think that's the other pieces that ties with not so much just getting through but really getting into that quality interaction. So, yeah, I want to get them talking about strengths because it's how you go deep with a tool. Rather than doing another assessment, when they're talking about strengths regularly, they're actually doing more to be more productive in their strengths.

Same Strengths + Different Perspectives = Endless Possibilities

Lisa: I fully agree. I think it's added a lot of benefit in terms of people being able to understand one of the natural talents that they may have seen on the list but they weren't identifying with in a workplace setting. Before they start talking about strengths, they had one sitting there. It was for "home use only" - and then as they're talking with the team, they see how it can be a differentiator at work too.

I have a couple of examples of that happening. One with Connectedness is popping in my mind where getting them talking about strengths with other people made it all make sense and then suddenly they love this thing that when at a glance, if they just left it at that surface, they would have been like, “Yeah I use that one with my kids but not at the office.” 

And then you also get the nuance of you, and how it looks on you, and your unique other talents that it's combined with versus how it looks on me, like maybe we can do our own little workshop-py moment here. So, you and I both have Focus right up at the top. So I'd be curious if we get you talking about your Focus and then we get me talking about my Focus, let's see how it shows up differently in us.

Joseph: With Focus for me, I'm constantly reprioritizing throughout the entire day to figure out what's most important about that day. Now that can lead to me procrastinating on things that I don't see as very important.

But I'm always like, "What's most important?," and then I start working on it. I have a list as an Achiever but it's constantly getting reprioritized. So that would be a great example of Focus.

Lisa: That’s big. I would say for me, first of all, of my Top 14, Focus is the only executing talent theme. So I lean on it, like you wouldn't believe, to be able to get things done. And when it's time to buckle down on something. I am impervious to the world. I literally talk to the team and say, "I'm going in my cave. You can't get to me for a couple of hours." 

That's the Focus-approach of just doing one thing until it's done. It's my myself creative space or get-it-done space.

And then the other way I see it coming up a lot is — I don't want to bring it to the shadow side of it but for me it does turn into a shadow side sometimes — makes me a little bit OCD. Whether that's keeping the house tidy and keeping everything put away and where it goes, or being organized. Often, it's getting this one priority and making it number one and making sure that everything is aligned to number one - that terminology that Gallup puts in there about monomaniacal, that one’s definitely true for me.

Joseph: I think that's a new word for me, Lisa. I don't know but I've thought about monomaniacal in Focus, but I could see that. When I was in the office I'd have to tell folks, "I may seem a little aloof, but really I’m just focused. I’m not aloof. I don’t not care about you. It’s just…"

And so I used to have people on my team say, “Can you please ask me if I'm focused or not?” 

And so that was a management of that strength. It worked great, and you can only get them into that boldness if you've been talking about strengths openly and regularly. 

Lisa: Oh wow. And you're bringing up management of the strength and then if you translate it into management of a team and how the perceptions of you come off and what a big deal that could be. Let's circle back to the focus of the conversation originally: how do you get people talking about their strengths? How do you get people talking about their talent themes and why is that important?

Well, imagine if you're a manager, and now you're talking about your strengths in a team building, and now I know that about you. Instead of thinking that you're an arrogant jerk and you ignore me every time I walk by, I think of, “Oh, okay Joseph is in Focus mode. I need to make sure that we have time booked. I don't want to be an interrupter.” 

It makes me want to honor the interactions that put you at your best. It helps me not tell myself stories in my head about you being aloof. 

Joseph: Yeah, talking about strengths is huge. There's so much misconception of how people are wired. And you know I talk to people sometimes, like who are frustrated with somebody else, and I'm like, “It might not be about you at all.” It probably isn't, most of the time, right?

And I had to learn that for myself over my career. You are a really small thing in their world. Now, some days it is about you and you have to work it out, right? 

But a lot of times it's not, and you know we always talk about strengths are not an excuse, but you do need to be aware of other people's strengths, and your own strengths, and how they might be interplaying with the world. So I think you and I will always be busy with some stuff with strengths in it. Talking about strengths sounds easy, yet it's not done so much in practice.

Listening To Others Talking About Strengths Is Key To Deeper Understanding

First Step: Get People Talking About StrengthsLisa: Absolutely. Okay, so as we close this episode, I'm going to think about what my takeaways are if I'm a listener — what I could be doing with this and how I could be using this approach of getting people talking about strengths.

So I'll go first. I would say, it doesn't matter, even if you don't have the facilitator in with you, and you're a manager, you just bought the book Strengthsfinder 2.0 and you're trying to do this with your team... 

If you were to go into a session and try to focus in on the definitions and the technical aspects of it, it would be far less meaningful than it would be if you just got people talking about what makes them feel like they can show up at their best.

So that's big. It's just the personal meaning and attachment and interest that people have to the topic. 

The second big takeaway I get from this is, you're telling people what to expect as a team. When you're talking about strengths, you’re telling people what to expect of you. It explains some of your actions and behaviors and it takes the mystery out. And even when people are making up stories about each other, it gives them the language and the ability to say, “Is that the Focus-based thing that you were talking about?” instead of just making the assumption. 

So, those are the two biggest ones I'm pulling. How about for you? 

Joseph: Yeah, I think I have one bigger one. So I think along the lines of what can someone do that has the books or has taken the StrengthsFinder test, or as a follow-up as you know, one of the things that we've done a lot of over the years is just going through all the strengths in a training session. And that can be, sometimes it can take 3 hours total. Maybe you break it up into three 1-hour sessions. 

And you just say like, “Who has Achiever?” and people raise their hand and you know you define it quickly to say these are go-getters. You bring up a topic, like "Every day starts with zero when you lead through Achiever," and ask them about the topic. I'd say, "how do you see that playing out?" and let them run with it. That's what it means to get started by talking about strengths. It's simple. You give a prompt and let them fly. 

Just like we were both talking about Focus earlier - where the real power comes in - it's where other people in the room can say, “This is where I see that in you.” 

So if you can get co-workers to affirm those talents in them, that’s more powerful than when they realize it themselves. 

When other people start talking about strengths that are in you, yet you never thought of them as anything special - that's when you decide to let them out. You think, “Oh people see this in me. And it's a good trait. I should let it out."  

It takes some skill to get teammates to fully acknowledge these things about each other, but you can just try it and see what depth you can get out of it.

Lisa: Absolutely. And you just made me think of one more that plays off of that. I remember a training event with an organization where a few people led through Connectedness. Two of them had to pull me aside on a break, this was in an in-person session. and they said, “I don't really get this. I don't really resonate with this one. I'm not so sure that this one is me.” 

So I did this thing, we call it the "strengths mingle" and we just get people to hold up these cards, they could find a quick match and they in person met up with the other four or five or ten people in the room that had that one. And in this moment there were two people who thought, “This just isn't me. I just think this one's wrong.” 

And then they got in this group and they started giving me examples, just like the couple that we just gave, and suddenly they were like, 

“Oh yeah, that's totally me.”

“Oh yeah yeah. It's not just all about this mystery thing.” 

“Oh yes, I'm, I have a big network.” 

“Oh yeah, I see downstream effects and ripple effects of the actions.” 

“Oh yeah, I'm always thinking like this.” 

So then they see it modeled in other people that they admire, or in other words, and then it's like, because it's being modeled in someone else, reflected in a different setting, suddenly they're able to grab a bunch of examples they couldn't see in themselves but now they can. This is what talking about strengths is all about. You can learn a lot about yourself by hearing someone else apply it in a different context.

Joseph: Yeah. People sort of get stuck in the label or the name of the strength versus the talents that are actually making it up.

I have a person on my team right now who has Connectedness, and it took him a little while. but now I can, be like, “You're doing that Connectedness thing right now.”

And he’ll go, “Okay, I get it. Making a connection, seeing the big picture." Talking about strengths regularly makes all the difference.

Lisa: Yeah. I love how you also just said you're doing that Connectedness thing right now. And it brought up for me how often the habit for people is if you were saying, “You're doing that thing right now,” it would be a negative feedback. But that's actually… there's that positive reinforcement.

“See you're doing it right there.”

“Oh yeah, that's good. All right, nice.”

It didn't really take you any effort. Took you 15 seconds to acknowledge that as a leader. 

Joseph: I think one of the things that I tried to do to differentiate myself as a leader is that thing that we talked about earlier, which is just really, if you can manage and lead to who those people are...you're helping them be at their best. I don't think a lot of people have experienced that along the way. I'm not saying I'm perfect at it by any means. I'm still learning and trying to get better at it.

And when you do any of that, people are like, “I've never had this before.” 

So I think what's important for that manager who's just trying to do strengths on their own is to say, even if you just acknowledge people have these strengths and you're going to try to pay attention to that, I think that that still is a 10% or less thing in the workforce and that's a powerful piece for managers. Just start talking about strengths any way you can.

Lisa: Yeah. Oh what a powerful gift to leave someone with a memory of a manager who affirmed them - a leader that saw the things in them that put them at their top performance. It's a beautiful thing.

I think that's a great way to wrap this episode. So for the listeners, as you are out there helping people claim their talents and share them with the world, get conversations going about strengths. See them in action. Spot them in action. Say it when you see it and get these conversations going about strengths in action. Just do it. Start talking about strengths regularly.

So instead of strengths being an abstract definition, it becomes your approach. It's how you get to know yourself, and how you get to know each other. 

With that, if you want someone to actually facilitate like this for your team, be sure when you go out to our Contact Us form, be sure that you request Joseph Dworak for your event. With that, we will see you next time. Bye for now.

More Resources To Get Your Team Talking About Strengths

If you missed our previous episode, Managing To People’s Strengths, go check it out. You'll hear Lisa and Joseph talk about including meaningful conversations in virtual meetings. These are conversations that can give you a peek into each other's natural talents.  

As you get people talking about strengths, some of them might come off as cocky that others might not respond well to it. Thankfully, there are ways to not sound arrogant while building a career around strengths. 

Remember that talking about strengths not only deepens your understanding of your own strengths but is an opportunity to share your insights about how you see strengths in others. So keep the conversation going — you never know what surprising insights you'll pick up!

About Carmie Carpio

Carmie is a professional writer and editor at Lead Through Strengths. Having spent 8 happy years with a nonprofit child organization as a storyteller and sponsorship relations team manager, she continues collaborating with others across the globe for the joy of human development and connection. Her days are powered by coffee, curiosities, cameras (film and digital), music, notebooks, and a cat. Where books are home, she's home. She calls her Top 5 StrengthsFinder Talents "CLIPS" (Connectedness, Learner, Intellection, Positivity, and Strategic)--you know, those tiny objects that hold connected things together. She'd like to think she's one.