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How to Use Your Strengths to Overcome Your Weaknesses

A simple, practical system for turning weaknesses into strengths.

Unsplash, Creative Commons Zero
Source: Unsplash, Creative Commons Zero

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Being reminded of our weaknesses is unpleasant. Therefore, we often learn to avoid tasks that require skills that we think of as weaknesses. This avoidance can cause problems and hold you back.

For example, if you don’t see yourself as good at networking, you’ll likely avoid it. The more you avoid it, the harder it becomes. When you've avoided something for a long time, your skills won't be as good as someone who has regularly practiced. Therefore, weaknesses can seem more pronounced over time. You can end up feeling embarrassed by them.

What’s the Solution?

A fun option to overcome a weakness is to find a new way to approach it that utilizes one of your core strengths. As per the earlier example, let’s say your weakness is networking. However, two of your strengths are being methodical and conscientious. You could look for a way to approach networking that uses your conscientiousness. Your solution could be something like methodically following up with a thank you email, note, or text message when a coworker has helped you or a contractor has done a good job. You’re then, essentially, redefining the activity not as a “networking” activity but as a “conscientiousness” activity.

Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses

To implement the above process in your own life, you’re going to need to build your awareness of your strengths. Try starting with a list of five to six strengths and one to three weaknesses. Write them down in two columns, and then draws some arrows, from the strengths to the weaknesses, where you think you could potentially apply a strength to a weakness. You don't need to be 100 percent sure how you're going to do it just yet. Go with your gut of what you think might be applicable.

For the weaknesses, you should focus on things that are actually getting in your way and that you have some motivation to change. For example, they could be related to negotiating, finances, relationships, or health behaviors.

The types of strengths that can be good candidates are things like:

  • being good at researching information
  • resourcefulness
  • persistence
  • conscientiousness
  • being methodical
  • planning for and overcoming obstacles
  • finding workarounds for problems
  • decency/following the “do unto others” principle
  • ability to follow instructions
  • ability to synthesize information
  • warmth
  • thoughtfulness
  • being calm and emotionally even-keeled
  • patience

There are many options for how you can redefine an area of weakness. You could redefine networking activities in terms of living the "do unto others" principle—you might think about how you’d like to receive a thank you when you’ve helped someone, and therefore you’re going to treat others the same way.

When you redefine tasks you’d normally avoid in this way, your urge to avoid them will lessen. This will then have a snowball effect because when you start practicing a task, you'll build both skills and confidence. This will allow you to expand your comfort zone, a little bit at a time.

Implementation Tips

  • Don't worry if it's hard to think of your strengths at first. Write down as many as you can think of and then add to your list over the next couple of weeks. Just notice the tasks that you do competently and ask yourself what strengths you're utilizing to do that.
  • You can also ask others what they see as your strengths. If you explain what you're doing (you could forward the link to this article), it will make it easier to ask people without it seeming like you're just fishing for compliments. This exercise can also be done with a coach.

There are lots more practical exercises like this one in my book and in my other PT articles.

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