What Matters Most?

Using your strengths to impact well-being

Talk About Your Strengths! 8 Reasons Why You Should (Part 2)

Rationale for countering a false humility

In part one, I discussed how, when we are asked to discuss our strengths, it is easy to create a barrier—a false humility. People then rationalize this by placing blame on their culture, personal anxiety, and a host of other reasons.

Here, in part two, is my argument for why non-avoidance of one’s strengths of character is important:

 

  1. The use of character strengths is connected with many benefits including increased well-being, engagement, life meaning, achievement, and decreased depression, to name a few.

  2. Our brains are wired for the negative—to find what is wrong. In fact, research has found that bad is stronger than good. For example, bad health, relationships, and parenting have stronger effects on us than good health, relationships, and parenting, respectively. Thus, we desperately need strengths use, strengths discussions, strengths exploration, and strengths appreciation. These help counterbalance our natural wiring toward the negative.

  3. How you share your strengths is critical. The purpose of discussing strengths is not about seeing yourself as better than others. When you share strengths—or anything else for that matter—the demands of the situation are important. It matters what you say, when you say it, and how you say it. It’s true that it is immodest if your approach is to directly or indirectly present your strengths as better than other people’s strengths or that because of your strengths you are a better person than others. It is not immodest, however, to name and share your strengths.

  4. The process of sharing good things about yourself is beneficial. Research has found that there are positive benefits experienced by people when they share good things that happen to them—these are experienced by the listener and the speaker. This process is called “capitalization,” as in, capitalize on your good experiences and positive stories. This research has found that the benefits are both intrapersonal (e.g., you feel happier) and interpersonal (e.g., you improve your relationship with the other person). In addition, the wider the range of sharing, the more benefits you experience. Adding in strengths—an often neglected area of sharing—is a logical way to capitalize.

  5. Don’t deprive others of knowing who you are. When we do NOT share our strengths, good qualities, or positive experiences, we are depriving others of learning about us. Instead, others see a façade. They only see a piece of your personality but not the full view. This can place a limitation on relationships. 

    I have a friend whose highest strength is humility. Just as all of us overuse our character strengths from time to time, she overuses her humility. The result is people do not get a chance to know her. I tend to not know about her many accomplishments and positive experiences (or I end up finding out about them from others) because she does not readily share them. Thus, I feel as if I don’t know her as well as my other friends.

  6. Try this experiment: If you hold back from talking about your strengths, explore this question: What are you neglecting or avoiding by not saying something? As discussed in Part 1, the hallmark of anxiety (and many other problems) is avoidance. It is easy to avoid things, especially those that seem uncomfortable…or those things that might be difficult…or those things that are unpredictable. Many people tell me they avoid sharing their strengths because they are afraid of what other people will think of them. They don’t want to be criticized or ostracized.

  7. Re-educate your memory and attention: When we share positive experiences it increases our memory for the positive events which helps to explain why there are good benefits to sharing. This makes sense—you share how you used one of your strengths at work today and you are digging into the positive memory, thinking about the details, and re-experiencing the positive emotions that came with it. You are rehearsing your memory of the strengths. Or, another way to think about this is you are, as researcher Tayyab Rashid has said, using the positive intervention to re-educate your memory and attention.

  8. Know thyself: It’s about self-awareness. Discussing strengths aloud brings it out of our heads, where we tend to live most of our days, and we learn about ourselves. It puts it out there, making it more real. If we keep our observations and good qualities on the inside, we miss an opportunity for deepening our self-awareness.

What I’m not saying:

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I’m not advocating for selfish sharing that neglects the other person.

We must listen and empathize, for sure. These are foundational to healthy relationships. Instead, I am making a case for eliminating any excuses, shyness, or ways in which we might fool ourselves (e.g., believing that it’s not humble to share) so that we can put our best foot forward and connect more deeply with others.

I’m not attacking humility.

In fact, quite the contrary. Humility scientists have found that a true humility is not captured by degrading ourselves, berating ourselves, keeping ourselves shut up, or being subservient, rather a true humility involves having a confident, strong self-esteem in which we can easily prioritize and turn the attention toward others. A humble person does not rely on the praise of others in order to feel better.  For years I have emphasized the importance of this character strength, and the sharing of our strengths from a perspective of deep humility. Even though groups have occasionally laughed when I have argued for the importance of humility and the finding that it is one of the least common strengths around the world, I maintain it is a critically important strength and, as Everett Worthington calls it, a quiet virtue.  

I’m not saying to be culturally insensitive or socially unintelligence.

Instead, I’m arguing that our ways of communicating with others needs to be more balanced, and it certainly needs to include more on strengths.

Takeaway points:

It comes down to creating a balanced approach in our relationships. If we are just comfortable sharing what is wrong or what is neutral we are not revealing the whole picture. And, if we limit ourselves to only sharing the mundane or the negative, we accept mediocrity and are less likely to strive to keep improving ourselves and our work. The idea is to share a wide range of perspectives and feelings—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. 

References

Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenaeuer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323–370.

Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 228–245.

Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.

McGrath, R. E. (in press). Character strengths in 75 nations: An update. Journal of Positive Psychology.

Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York, NY: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Rashid, T. (2009). Positive interventions in clinical practice. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 65 (5), 461–466.

Reis, H., Smith, S., Carmichael, C., Caprariello, P., Tsai, F., Rodrigues, A., & Maniaci, M. R. (2010). Are you happy for me? How sharing positive events with others provides personal and interpersonal benefits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(2), 311–329.

Tangney, J. P. (2000). Humility: Theoretical perspectives, empirical findings and directions for future research. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 19, 70–82.

Tangney, J. P. (2002). Humility. In C. R. Snyder & S. L. Lopez (Eds.),Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 411-419). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Worthington, E. L. (2007). Humility: The quiet virtue. Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.


Resources

VIA Institute (the nonprofit organization)

VIA Classification (the system of strengths and virtues)

VIA Survey (the research-validated test)

VIA resources for practitioners

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D., is the education director at the VIA Institute on Character.

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