You can make almost anyone your BFF with this simple technique.
Posted Dec 11, 2019
In my last post, I talked about how to easily and quickly build confidence and overcome depression. To do that, I cited some research on character strengths and pointed out a web site—VIA Institute on Character—where you could assess your 24 top strengths in just a few minutes.
This practice is good for making you feel better. But now, let's look at the flip side of this, which translates into you letting others know their strengths so they can feel good as a result. This is a powerful way to make a positive connection with others.
In my workshops over the past 10 years, I have witnessed the magnetic and almost instant bonding effect that occurs when two people meet through the lens of strengths. After first teaching the group how to identify strengths, I have people pair up with someone new. Each individual then shares the ordinary story of coming to the workshop—with the other person listening for strengths.
Finally, after each person has heard their strengths reflected back, I ask the following question:
"What was it like to meet someone through the lens of strengths?"
If it were possible to measure the level of goodwill and positive energy in the room after this exercise, it would be off the charts! Noticing the strengths of another is a powerful connecting tool that makes people take notice of you. When you point out someone's strengths, you accomplish three things:
1. People feel heard and validated.
2. Individuals feel safe, and with safety comes a secure attachment and connection.
3. Individuals feel they are not being judged, and can thus be more authentic and real.
Identifying Strengths With the "Story Brain"
One way to really tell a rich, cohesive, and well-rounded story that reveals strengths is by using the Story Brain. The Story Brain is how the desert Aborigines in Western Australia view the totality of our experiences. I suggest people use this as a model for sharing any story in order to locate coping skills and strengths.
Here are the four key elements of the Story Brain:
- The History Brain: This acknowledges that when we tell our story or experience of anything, our history plays a role. For example, you may have a history of getting on the freeway, of going to the doctor, of finishing a report at work. Your history has an impact on how you think and behave today, and it deserves to be part of your story.
- The Family Brain: I like to expand this to the Resources and Relationship Brain. In other words, how do relationships support or assist you? When telling a story, it helps you acknowledge and include these aspects.
- The Geographic Brain: I prefer to broaden this into the Environmental Brain—which includes how the outer environment of stresses and the inner environment of thoughts and emotions has an effect on how we cope and act.
- The Body Brain: The body is an important arbiter of any experience. Getting in the habit of noticing the body as an active player in your daily story is vital.
Exercise: Finding Strengths in an Ordinary Story
Let's see what it's like to put this into practice. When you have a few minutes, journal or reflect back on an ordinary story—such as going to an appointment, making dinner, etc. But tell the story using the four Story Brain elements discussed above.
As an example, let's briefly examine the simple story of my writing this blog:
My Environmental Brain faced stressors of putting up the holiday ornamentation and cleaning the house before the out-of-town family arrived—thus revealing the strengths of "discipline," "concentration," and "steadfastness" that helped me to return to the blog and get refocused time after time. When a strand of Christmas lights didn't work, I smiled (strength of humor) at how something unexpected always occurs when putting up decorations. My Resources and Relationship Brain was supported by my wife, who generously contributed as a team player in numerous ways, as did the resource of my own "memory" (by the way, if you find your car in the mall parking lot while holiday shopping, that's the strength of memory!).
My Body Brain benefitted from "bodily self-care" (such as when I paused to eat and stretch my back. Finally, let's not forget my History Brain—consisting of my long history of writing, which gave me organizational skills and a belief in my ability to complete the entire process from idea to proofreading. (Well, I haven't completed this blog just yet!)
Admittedly, if someone had told me that there were strengths in that story, my first inclination might be to diminish its value. "That's not a very exciting story," I might say, even adding, "In fact, there's very little there that says much about who I am." However, as you can see from the above example, that is not true!
Now, let's return to your own "ordinary story." After you have journaled or reflected, write down as many strengths as you can find. You might be surprised that so much comes from what seems like the average, everyday story. When you find the strengths in your story, keep in mind that this is not meant as a phony ego boost, but as an accurate look at the coping skills you utilize to be effective in the world!
Noticing Strengths of Others: 3-Step Magic Elixir of Connection
Listening to the strengths of others also transforms how you listen. Here's how to do this:
1. Set the intention to notice the strengths of another. This changes how you engage in any relationship. From the beginning, you are primed for hearing strengths. This opens you up to a fresh way of seeing and being with others.
2. Get in the habit of identifying and naming strengths. If someone shares a funny story, that's the strength of humor; if someone is caring or thoughtful for another, that's the strength of kindness and compassion; if someone walks the dog, that's the strength of kindness; if someone is good at a task, that's the strength of discipline and mastery.
3. Share other's strengths. Let others know about the strengths you notice. This doesn't have to be obvious, but can be a simple statement, such as, "I noticed how that (strength here) made a difference," or "How you acted with (strength here) really is a wonderful coping skill. How did you learn that?" When you let others share their stories and recognize their strengths, you may be surprised at how they open up.
I like to think of sharing strengths as a form of altruism. It represents a generosity of spirit and a gift that you're offering to another. With the holidays upon us, enjoy sharing strengths to build relationships in the coming days. What a wonderful way to celebrate goodwill toward all.