Do Your Strengths Hold You Back?

Now that change in almost all domains of life is near constant, there's no counting on received wisdom about what is good. All views must  be regularly re-examined. By Mary Loftus

Too Much of Anything Is Bad For You

Can you be too extraverted? Too nice? Too happy? Too rich? Maybe you can!

Can you be too self-confident? Too expressive? Too nice? Too smart? This post will explore the idea that many psychological variables, including personality traits and some skills and abilities are curvilinear when it comes to effectiveness and well-being. In other words, too much of some, perhaps most, things are bad for you.

Part 1: Personality

Here’s one from leadership research: A moderate amount of self-confidence (and even a good amount of narcissism) is related to leader effectiveness. But overconfident or highly narcissistic leaders are arrogant and prone to move to the dark side. Moreover, because they are sure they are never wrong, their mistakes go unchecked and they can fail.

Let’s look at the Big 5 personality traits: too much Conscientiousness and the person becomes a perfectionist, unable to complete tasks because they’re not perfect. Too much Openness to Experience and you could be an out-of-control risk-taker. Too much Agreeableness and you are too nice – allowing others to take advantage of you. [I’ve written about this before].

Part 2: Skills & Abilities

This idea of too much being bad was stimulated by my research on social skills. We find that being too emotionally expressive, without having some ability to regulate and control emotional displays, leads to an individual who is emotionally out-of-control and transparent – wearing his or her “heart on the sleeve.” Conversely, too much emotional control makes an individual appear distant and aloof. Too much emotional sensitivity and the person becomes prone to emotional contagion – vicariously feeling the strong emotions of others, often to his or her detriment.

How about too intelligent? Again, research on leadership suggests that if the leader is much more intelligent than followers, the leader will not be effective because he/she cannot connect with them. Of course, I’m not going to suggest that moderate levels of intelligence are best, so that brings us to this important conclusion:

It Is Balance That Matters.

Most often, traits, abilities, and other psychological variables need to be in balance – extraversion balanced with tact; agreeableness balanced with appropriate assertiveness; conscientiousness balanced with the ability to complete tasks, etc.

How about behaviors and other outcomes? You know the saying, “you can never be too rich or too thin?” Well, we know that too thin – anorexia – is a serious problem How about too rich? Well, yes, to an extent. Think of the impact on your life as you have the responsibility to manage an enormous, and growing, sum of money. You have more than you can ever spend, and there are important decisions to be made about what to do with it, so much so that it consumes your life. OK, I’m probably stretching a bit here, but you get the point: Too much of many things can be bad for you.

According to Aristotle, temperance, or balance, is a virtue. Can too much happiness be bad for you? Well, to the extent that you don’t experience negative emotions, it could be, and coincidentally research suggests that happiness levels off with rising income, such that after a certain income (about $75-100K per year) there is little increase in life satisfaction.

Like another saying, “moderation in all things” – balance, temperance, moderation may be better than “too much.”

 

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Do Your Strengths Hold You Back?