In this episode, Lisa answers the question: What do strengths look like under stress? She shares the three things that might unintentionally bring out the shadow side of your strengths under stress, and then gives you ways to reframe them from bad to better.
What Do Strengths Look Like Under Stress?
Today the question is about whether strengths look or act differently when they’re under stress.
This is such a timely question because I woke up today ... well, not at my best. After an awesome team StrengthsFinder event in NYC last week, I sat next to a prolific cougher and sneezer on the plane. I’m pretty sure he’s the one that passed me this horrible funk that has taken over my body.
Today, I woke up out of sleeping hard. My head hurts. My throat hurts. My ears ring. I coughed all night — as you can probably hear in my voice. And to top it off, my comforter was covered in puke. Not my puke. My dog’s. Apparently, my dog Monkey is also sick today and she jumped in the bed to get me to let her out. I slept through that.
So, why are you hearing this gross story right now? It’s because, no matter how great your life is — no matter how much you love your job, you’ll still have bad days. And you need to know how your talents show up when you’re under stress, when you’re sick, and when you’re burned out. It’s good to know what do to with them on the days that you want to hide under the covers and do nothing.
Like me, you probably have client meetings, deadlines, and commitments that lead you to get out of bed anyway — even on a really bad day. You tough it out. I know you’ve had days like this — where it all seems to be going wrong before the alarm even goes off.
Well, those days can definitely bring out the shadow sides of your strengths. Those days can expose ugly sides of your talents — the side that doesn’t normally show up, even though you haven’t invested fully in that talent. The ugly side doesn’t show up day to day, yet the dark side is way more likely to rear its ugly head when you’re having a terrible week at work.
For example, if you lead with Activator, you might snap at someone because you’re feeling exceptionally impatient with her lack of movement. If you lead with Consistency, you might throw the rule book at someone who constantly asks for exceptions and today, you’re so done with it. If you lead through Intellection, you might “hole up” in your cave and isolate yourself from the team.
You get the idea here. Now that you have a couple of examples in mind, here are three stressful situations that might expose the dark side of your talent themes.
Three Things That Might Unintentionally Bring Out The Dark Side Of Your Talents Under Stress (And How To Reframe From Bad To Better)
Three things that will highlight the shadow side of your strengths when under stress are:
- Having A Bad Day
- A Person (or Team) Who Frustrates You
- An Environment Where You Feel Mismatched
1: Having A Bad Day Or Week —> Your Strengths Can Strengthen You
When things are frustrating, what’s your typical response? For example, maybe you lead through Restorative and you resent the very problem that gave you the bad day (even though you normally get excited about solving problems). Maybe your Learner talent is annoyed because your team moves too fast to give you a chance to become the deep subject matter expert you want to become to put you at your best.
Think of yours. You probably have a thing you get frustrated about or have a typical reaction, regardless of the cause of the bad day.
One way to use your strengths in this situation is to rely on old faithful. Of your Top 5 talent themes, you probably have one that’s easy to call on in tough times.
Maybe your Strategic talent allows you to see simplicity through the overwhelm. So turn up the dial on your Strategic talent today. Maybe your Empathy theme gives you unlimited doses of patience. Or your Focus talent allows you to feel some calm in knowing that you’ll knock out today’s list one item at a time, and that it can keep you on task even with the urgent issues exploding all around you.
So that’s it. When you’re having a bad day or week, rely on one that’s easy to call on. Crank up the volume on a different virtue that can shine through despite the craziness around you.
2: A Person (Or Team) Who Frustrates You —> You’ll Make Good Partners
Think of someone at work who you don’t love working with. If you lead through Responsibility, maybe it’s someone who constantly misses deadlines. For me, I remember feeling eternally frustrated with a woman who treated our sales team poorly.
If you lead through Context, maybe it’s a person on the team who refuses to acknowledge and learn from the failures the team already experienced and you feel that they put the vision out to the organization foolishly because that same vision has failed four times, the only difference is that they called it by a different name each time.
Think about that person for you. Try to concretely imagine a specific person who has been tough for you during your career.
So what do you do about it? One is to identify where, specifically, you think the person is different from you. Even if you don’t know their StrengthsFinder talent themes, just think about what they seem to value and where they’re coming from. As tough as it might seem, assume they have positive intent and imagine a possible positive thing they could bring to the situation.
For example, the person who is frustrated because her teammate misses deadlines could notice (when she looks carefully) that it’s because her colleague wanted to be absolutely sure that the data is correct. He delayed because new information became available, and because he leads through Analytical, there’s no way he would put out misleading data. He’d rather be late than wrong.
In my personal example, think back to the woman who treated the sales team with constant snarky and dismissive comments. Well, when I looked carefully and open-mindedly (and assumed positive intent), I noticed that my team member had an operational focus. She was great at standardizing processes and making us efficient.
So rather than coming at the angle with the frustration about how she treated salespeople, we could first find common value in the fact that she made those rules in order to create a good customer experience. We both valued that. When it came time to solve her problem of the sales people not filling out her forms (which is why she was rude to them), we could use the customer experience to keep our conversation aligned to something we both wanted.
The idea here is that even when someone drives you crazy, there’s a thread of something good that they bring to the team. Look for that thread rather than the irritant.
In many ways, you get what you look for. If you see the good that this person brings and you acknowledge it, they’ll bring you more of that good stuff. And you’ll notice that their way of bringing good stuff is probably not how you love to operate. So you should be celebrating it. You can think, “Wow, I’m so happy someone wants to obsess over the data because I’d rather brush over that and get to the customer messaging” or “Wow, I’m thrilled that someone likes to deliver presentations to customers because I’d rather be off in my R&D think tank, speccing out the next product.”
This is the ultimate case of how one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. You probably have a few tasks or responsibilities that you’d like to throw in the trash. And you probably have a few that you treasure.
And amazingly, these are different for each person, so it’s possible to literally swap out your trash tasks for treasured ones. Or you can partner up with someone where you divide out the parts of a project or task so that you each take the part that lights you up rather than the one that highlights your dark side.
3: An Environment Where You Feel Mismatched —> Your Differences Are Your Differentiators
Think of one of your talent themes that you didn’t want to own when you first saw your Top 5 StrengthsFinder talent themes. I often hear things like, “This description of Input makes me sound like a hoarder” or “This description of Competition makes me sound super judge-y with all of these notes about how I love comparison.”
Or someone tells me they don’t think their talent is good for them in their environment. For example, a woman recently told me that she gets negative feedback about her Communication talent theme. Her manager told her she talks too much and that she’s coming on too strong for her teammates.
Looking at the team DNA charts, we saw how that could be an easy place for her to feel mismatched because her team was exceptionally high in Relator and Intellection. Most people on the team were academics who were used to communicating formally, and only after having thought deeply on a topic. On the other hand, she likes to talk things out. She actually does her thinking through the act of talking. And she felt like a fish out of water.
When you feel mismatched, think about how the team needs the diversity of thought. Think about how the team could benefit from other ways of solving problems and interacting with the world. In the case of the woman with the Communication talent we just talked about, she was able to use this as a differentiator.
She became the go-to on the team for PR and customer communications because her teammates preferred to stay behind the scenes. It was a way for her create value for the organization rather than deciding she should squash it or hide it. As she put it, “Now they like it when I talk a lot because it means they don’t have to talk to customers as often."
Another woman with the Competition talent decided to use her constant comparison to become a cheerleader for the team. She would dig into the metrics, both inside and outside the company, to highlight where other people were their best in their roles or in their industry.
She helped people see that they were good at something that they didn’t even know about. And it showed the team that Competition didn’t mean she wanted to beat them, it meant that she gets a charge out of winning. And that includes helping the company win and helping other team members win in their roles.
To take the “Under Stress” exercise further, explore your talents through the lens of this Yucks inventory. Ask yourself which 1-2 of the words or phrases are hot buttons for you. Then consider what situations call on that “Yuck” often.
It will give you clues about how to avoid it, get less of it, or to reframe it like you did in this episode. Very often, you can address that same situation through another one of your talent themes. Or you can partner with someone who doesn’t see it as a Yuck at all.
Here's A Full Transcript Of The 19 Minute Episode
You're listening to lead through strengths, where you will learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I am 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.
[0:20] Today, the question is about whether strengths look, or act different when they're under stress?
[0:28] Well, this is a timely question for me because I woke up today, well, not at my best. After an awesome team StrengthsFinder event in New York City last week, I sat next to a prolific cougher and sneezer on the plane. And I'm pretty sure he's the one that passed me this horrible funk that has taken over my body.
So today, I woke up out of sleeping really hard. My head hurt, my throat hurts, my ears ringing. I coughed all night, as you can probably hear my voice. And to top it off, my comforter was covered in puke, not my puke, my dog’s. So apparently, my dog monkey is also sick today. And she jumped in the bed to get me to let her out. And I slept through that. Boy. So why are you hearing this gross story right now? Well, it's because no matter how great your life is, no matter how much you love your job, no matter how much you love, the work that you do in general, you're still going to have bad days. And you need to know how your talents are going to show up when you're under this kind of stressors, when you're sick, when you're burned out, when you're frustrated.
It's good to know what to do with them on the days that you want to hide under the covers and not come out for a few days, because it will give you ways to re-energize yourself and reframe the situation that you're in. Because like me, you probably have client meetings and deadlines and commitments that lead you to get out of bed on those days anyway. And you tough it out. And I know you've had a lot of days like this where it all seems to be going wrong before the alarm even goes off. And those can definitely bring out the shadow sides of your strengths. Those days can expose the uglier side of a talent, the side that doesn't really show up.
Normally, even though you haven't invested fully in the talent, the ugly side doesn't show up day to day. But it will rear its head when you're having a terrible week at work.
[2:37] So for example, if you lead with Activator, and you're having a bad day, you might snap at somebody because you're feeling really impatient with her lack of movement. Or another example, if you lead with Consistency, you might throw the rulebook at somebody who constantly asks for exceptions. And today, you're just so done with it that you can't take it. Or if you lead through Intellection, you might hole up in your cave, and just isolate yourself from the team.
So, you get the idea here. And now that you have a couple of examples in mind, here are three stressful situations that might expose the dark side of your talent themes. So, number one, it's just having a bad day or a bad week.
[3:21] Number two, could be a person or even a full team frustrate you.
[3:27] And then three, an environment where you feel mismatched, like something about you doesn't seem to be valued there, so you squash it down. So, let's break down each one of those and then use your personal talents to turn the situation around, and then you'll get the opportunity to take each one from the bad day kind of situation to a better type of situation.
So number one, if you're having a bad day or a bad week, reframe that into, ‘Hey, I need to feel stronger today and my strengths, strengthen me.’ So when things are frustrating, what's your typical response, I mean, literally your personal typical response?
So, for example, if you lead through Restorative, and you're having a bad day, you might feel like you especially resent the fact that the very problem that's giving you the bad day is something that exists despite how many times you've offered a solution to the team. Or let's say you have the Learner talent, and it's feeling annoyed because your team moves so fast. And it just doesn't give you the chance to become the deep subject matter expert that you want to become to put yourself at your best. ,
So, as you're listening, think of yours, you probably have a thing that you get frustrated about, and you probably have a typical reaction to it regardless of the cause of the bad day. And so, one way to then reframe this and use your strengths to turn it into a better situation is to rely on Old Faithful. Have your top 5 talent themes. You probably have one that's easier to call on, especially in tough times and let's say, maybe your Strategic talent allows you to see simplicity when you're constantly feeling overwhelmed.
So, turn up the dial on your Strategic that day and make it a conscious effort. Or maybe you have the Empathy theme and it gives you those unlimited doses of patience that other people don't seem to have. Or maybe you have the Focus talent, and it lets you feel some calm. And knowing that today, you're going to knock it out, you just need to do it one item at a time. And that you can use your Focus talent to keep you on task, even when all those urgent issues are exploding all around you.
So that's it. When you're having a bad day or a bad week, just consciously think about your go-to. Rely on one that's easy to call on, and then just crank the volume up on that virtue that allows you to shine through at your best, despite all that craziness around you.
Alright, that second situation that can bring out this shadow side, it's a person or a team who really frustrates you. So, the way to turn that around and make it better is thinking about how you could make effective partners. Makes sense, right? If somebody has a different style from you, you could make a really great partnership. So, think of someone, imagine a specific person at work that you don't love working with. So, if you love, let's say, you lead through Responsibility, maybe it's somebody who consistently misses deadlines, who drives you crazy.
For me, personally, I remember feeling eternally frustrated with a woman at work who treated our sales team poorly. If you lead through Context, maybe it's a person on the team who refuses to acknowledge from and learn from the failures that the team already experienced in its past. And if you have Context, and you're thinking that and you're feeling like they're putting the vision out to the organization, foolishly because the same vision has failed four times, only the difference is they call it by a different name each time. Well, there you get the example. So, think of that person for you likely will be different depending on the type of talent themes you have.
[7:24] And try to concretely imagine a specific person who has been tough for you. Sometime during your career, the more recent, the better, because if it's current, you can take action on it now. So, once you have that person, what do you do about it? Well, first identify where, very specifically where that person is different from you. So even if you don't know their StrengthsFinder talent themes, just think about what they seem to value and where they seem to be coming from on issues.
Now, as tough as it might seem, this next step is really important. And it's that you assume that they have positive intent. And imagine a possible positive thing that they could be bringing to the situation, with that thing, with that style, with that approach, with that decision-making process, or even with that behavior that drives you crazy.
So, for example, the person who's frustrated because her teammate misses the deadlines, the one who led through Responsibility talent, well, she looked really carefully. Maybe she would notice that her colleague wanted to be absolutely sure that the data is correct and he delayed because new information became available. And because he leads to Analytical, there is no way he would put out misleading data. He'd rather be late than be wrong.
But imagine if you have Responsibility, you'd rather be on time. So, in my personal example, if you think back to the woman who I mentioned, treated the sales team poorly, well, she was constantly snarky and dismissive in our comments to them. And it really did get at me. But when I looked carefully, and open-mindedly, and assumed positive intent, even when she just seemed like she was being mean and rude, I noticed that she had an operational focus and everything that she did, she was great at standardizing processes, she was great in making us an efficient team.
So rather than coming to her to solve the problem, by telling her that I was frustrated about how she treated salespeople, instead, I came to her finding a common value in the fact that she made those rules in order to create a good customer experience. We both valued customer experience, so when it came to solving the problem of the salespeople not filling out her forms, which is why she got annoyed with them, which is why she treated them poorly, we could use the customer experience to keep our conversation aligned to something we both wanted as the solution, instead of getting derailed by these side symptoms.
And the idea here is that even when someone drives you crazy, there is a thread of something good that they bring to the team. Look for that thread rather than for the irritant. You know, in many ways you get what you look for in the workplace. If someone's driving you crazy, you'll probably notice that same behavior that drives you crazy over and over. And then they will be like a snowball effect of driving you more and more nuts every day at work. But if you see the good in a person, and you acknowledge it, and I don't mean just acknowledge it in your mind, but even acknowledge it to that person, they will then bring you more of that good stuff at work. And this isn't just for managers to use. When you're working with your direct reports. I'm talking about acknowledging this with peers, acknowledging in general, with any human, the stuff that they bring to the workplace or to the environment around you, because the more people see that it is valued, the more they will bring it and offer it to the world.
So, it's kind of interesting, because you'll notice that their way of bringing good stuff is probably not how you love to operate in the world. So, it's actually cool. You should be celebrating this because you can think, - ‘Wow, I'm so happy that somebody wants to obsess over data, because I'd rather brush or write over that and get to the customer messaging part.’ - because the messaging is the fun for you. Or, ‘Wow, I'm so thrilled that somebody likes to deliver presentations to customers, because I would rather be in my R&D think tank specking out the next product.’ Or you know, you could see the same thing in reverse. One person likes one thing, the other person likes the other thing. And so instead of being annoyed by the differences, think, - ‘Oh, yeah, this is really cool that someone loves that stuff that I hate.’ It's the ultimate case of how one person's trash is another person's treasure, you can probably have a few tasks or responsibilities at work.
[11:54] Most of us do that. You'd like to throw in the trash and never see again, and you probably have a few that you actually treasure and you would be excited to take more of those on or spend more time doing them. And amazingly, these are different for every person. So, it's actually possible to literally swap out your trash tasks for treasured ones, or you can partner up with somebody where you divide out the parts of a project or a task so that you each take the part that lights you up rather than the one that highlights your dark side. Obviously, it takes some work and some craft and a lot of communication, because if you're not communicating, you'll never know these things about each other.
Alright, the third one is about that environment where you feel mismatched. And the way to make this situation better is to remember that your differences are your differentiators. So, think of one of your talent themes that the one that you wanted to own the least when you first saw your top 5 in your list. So, in a more extreme example, I'll tell you, I often hear things like, ‘Oh, this description of Input makes me sound like I'm a hoarder’. Or people say, ‘Man, this description of Competition makes me sound like I'm super judgy with all these notes about how I love to compare’. Or in general, people, even if they like their talents, they will tell me that they don't think they're a great fit for their environment, maybe for that industry, or for that team or for that company culture.
So, to give you an example, a woman told me recently that she gets negative feedback about her Communication talent theme. And her manager literally told her that she talks too much, and that the team thinks she's coming on too strong. So, looking at the team DNA charts, well, it was really easy to see how this could happen. It'd be an easy place for her to feel mismatch because her team was exceptionally high and the number of people with the Relator talent and the number of people with the intellection talent, most of the people on her team, her teammates, are academics who are used to communicating very formally, and only after having thought very deeply about a topic.
And then on the other hand, you have the woman I'm talking about. Well, she likes to talk things out and she actually does the thinking through the act of talking. And she felt like a total fish out of water there. So, if you feel mismatched, one of the first things to do is just to get grounded in thinking about how the team actually needs your diversity of thought. Think about how the team could benefit from other ways of solving problems or getting things done or other ways of interacting with the world.
And in the case of the woman with this communication talent, she was able to use this as a differentiator. So, she ended up becoming the go-to on the team for PR and for customer communications because her teammates really preferred to stay behind the scenes. They wanted to do the thinking, they wanted to do the writing, they wanted to do the white papers. They want to do the research, she wanted to do the presenting of it. And so, she used this as a way to create value for the organization.
So rather than deciding to quash it down or to hide it, as she put it, she said, ‘now they like it when I talk a lot, because it means they don't have to talk to customers, as often’. So that's a winning partnership.
Another one of my clients with the Competition talent decided to use her constant comparison to become a cheerleader for the team. Instead of that, ‘Oop, gosh, this makes me sound so judgy’. She said, ‘Alright, well, I'm going to start digging up the metrics inside the company inside the team, outside the company, outside the team, outside the industry. And she used it to highlight where other people were the best, the best in their role, the best in their industry, the best at the company. And she used it to be able to celebrate these winning spots, and really highlight where people are great. And often, she found that she was helping people see that they weren't good at something that they didn't even know about. They just thought they were average and doing the job. And it also showed the team that this Competition talent didn't mean that she wanted to beat them, it just meant that she gets a charge out of winning, and that winning also includes helping the company win and helping other team members win in their roles too.
So, here's a recap of situations that you should look for that might bring out the shadow side of your strengths when you're under stress.
So, you had number one, having a bad day or week. And you will really want to know what you look like at your worst, what are your tendencies, so that you can consciously turn up the volume on another talent, that's easy for you to use.
Number two, a person who frustrates you. Remember, assume positive intent and look for the good they bring even if you have to try really, really hard to see that. Then partner up purposefully, where you've been an opposite world from them.
And then three, the environment where you feel mismatched. Notice, where you feel like you're living in the world of one of those things is not like the other like that old game on Sesame Street. And rather than running from the role, or hiding from your talent, consciously pull it out as a differentiator and offer it to people who would hate using it so that you instead can get known for a quality that is rare and much needed in the organization.
And to take this under stress exercise further, I'll close out by offering you a way to explore your talents at this page on the Lead Through Strengths website.
[17:44] So, if you go to leadthroughstrengths.com/yucks - and that's yucks, Y U C K S, you can ask yourself which of the items in the list, it's a page full of words and phrases that might be hot buttons for you, things that make you think – ‘Yuck, I wish I could never experience this again at work.’
And then when you consider what situations call on that, yuck, often, it'll give you some clues about how to avoid it, how to get less of it, or how to reframe it, like you did in this episode. And very often, you can address that same yuck situation through another one of your talents to turn it around. Or you can partner with somebody who doesn't see it as a yuck at all. Because back to that trash and treasure concept, somebody else might actually love that very thing that is stressing you out.
So, with that, thanks for listening to lead through strengths. Remember, using your strengths will strengthen your performance on your team. If you're putting a lopsided focus on fixing your weaknesses, you're choosing the path of most resistance. Remember that your trash tasks might be someone else's treasure tasks at work. So claim your talents and share them with the world.