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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How to Identify Your Strengths And Weaknesses in 5 Steps

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How to Identify Your Strengths And Weaknesses in 5 Steps

Many of us have a wide range of experiences and achievements we want to have and reach during our lifetime. The final destinations always have a bright and shiny appeal about them but what we don’t often prepare for the twists, turns, and trials that can challenge us along the way. Here’s where knowing our strengths and weaknesses can be incredibly useful.

With a better idea of our resourcefulness and shortfalls, we aren’t only able to develop better plans to reach our goals, but we can also eliminate would-be challenges, experience a far more enjoyable journey as we progress toward our targets, and inevitably grow along the way.

The best way to identify your strengths and weaknesses involves a mix of methods. Some involve self-evaluation and others require a lending hand from others. By following these five steps, however, you’ll be eagerly embracing opportunities to increase your awareness of your strengths and weaknesses.

1. Identify Strengths and Weaknesses in Terms of Context

Firstly, forget drawing up a two-column table and listing your strengths on one side and weaknesses on the other without reference to a context. Doing so will be a completely pointless exercise. Without referencing your self-evaluation to a specific situation, you’re likely to wind up feeling overwhelmed and directionless.

According to researchers, strengths and weaknesses are highly contextual and dependent on the mix of our values, goals, interests, and situational factors.[1] Given this, it’s helpful to begin by reviewing key situations in your life where you have goals for things to be better than they are.

Certain aspects of your work might require you to exercise different skills and knowledge to varying degrees. You might be experiencing challenges in your personal or family relationships. Perhaps you want to master skills at playing a musical instrument, a sport, or develop a creative or performing arts talent.

Whichever you choose, get to task on the following:

  1. Determine what skills, knowledge, and style of application will bring the desired outcomes and changes to fruition.
  2. Review which of those you believe you have.
  3. Rate how close a fit you believe what you have is a fit to what is required (e.g. 10 might be a perfect fit and zero represents no skills, knowledge, or application capability).
  4. For ratings you ascribe yourself above zero, ask yourself how easy or challenging it is for you to apply the skills, knowledge, and understanding.
  5. Ask yourself, “What did I enjoy the most?” and “What did I enjoy the least?”

It can also be more helpful and accurate to rate yourself along a continuum as opposed to trying to identify a trait, skill, or attribute as purely strength or weakness. You might be stronger in some regards and weaker/less strong in others.

You might also consider substituting ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’ language for:

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  • easiest to hardest
  • effortless to effortful
  • ineffective to highly effective
  • completely unfamiliar to familiar

Doing so lessens a tone of judgment often associated with the highly polarized strengths-weakness dichotomy.

Self-evaluation alone is not an effective means of discovering your strengths and weaknesses. If harboring lower self-esteem strikes a chord with you, you’re likely to be negatively biased and a harsher critic toward yourself.

Even though this initial reflection is a step in a helpful direction, its individual and subjective nature can do more harm than good. It’s time to engage an external evaluation tool designed to help filter out at least some level of that negative bias.

2. Carefully Select and Use Self-Assessment Tools

Self-evaluation tools greatly help you to make sense of and organize your strengths and weaknesses. Profiles that emerge from your answers enable you to recognize where it might be best to direct your energy and attention to improve your knowledge and skillset.

The formerly known Values in Action survey is now recognized as VIA Character Strengths. Despite the name change, it maintains that every individual—regardless of culture or nation—has varying degrees of 24 character strengths that constitute the best of our personalities.[2]

Character strengths are defined by researchers and psychologists to be positive, trait-like capacities for thinking, feeling, and behaving in ways that benefit oneself and others.

The VIA Institute developed the survey from a strong foundation of research indicating how focusing on strengths has multiple benefits:

  • Increases in self-reported ratings of life satisfaction
  • Improved workplace productivity and lower staff turnover
  • Higher self-esteem, motivation, goal achievement, and sense of direction

As the VIA is a self-report tool, it’s important to note that your top strengths are those you identify to be such in amongst your other characteristics. The strengths are not identified as strengths in comparison with other individuals.

Another validated self-report tool, the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI), helps you recognize your preferred thinking styles.[3] Categorizing how we think into four quadrants—analytical, experimental, relational, and practical—the instrument helps deepen our awareness of how we’re apt to think and tackle different situations and relationships.

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Your results profile reflects where you might feel more at ease and where you might find challenges more arduous. According to the Australian Hermann Brain division, 58% of individuals completing the instrument are apt to predominantly operate from two quadrants and 34% prefer three.

There will be times you’re less apt to embrace activities and experiences willingly. More and different types of effort are required to undertake them.

While learning these insights can be incredibly useful, you need to caution yourself from falling into traps:

  • Shying away from situations because you have less aptitude for navigating through them with ease
  • Making excuses to justify poor/lower effort because your natural thinking style isn’t accommodated for

Remember, your attitude and positive psychology mental toolkit have a large influence on your capability. So, while your brain might currently work in certain ways automatically, it is still a neuroplastic machine.

You need to be cautious when evaluating yourself with self-assessment tools. Check to see what the recommended application is behind the tool to start with, particularly with psychometric tests and evaluations. Such assessments are created with different goals and intentions in mind. So, it’s important to identify the one which is most helpful to the context in which you’re looking to review your strengths and weaknesses.

3. Consult Qualified, Trusted Individuals

When we’re asked to describe the strengths we see in our friends, it’s a relatively easy task to do. However, when asked to do this exercise for ourselves, our list of weaknesses tends to carry far more weight than our strengths. The notion we are our own strongest (and often harshest) critics, rings true.

Conversely, the Dunning-Kruger effect can also be at play—you might think you’re better than you really are.

Founder of money management organization My Budget, Tammy Barton, describes how when undertaking performance reviews with her employees, there are clear differences between men and women. Women underreported their skillset, communicated lower self-efficacy, and shot for lower goals than men. With men, she witnessed more reports reflective of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Because of these (often unconscious) biases we have, getting feedback from those qualified to give you feedback is essential. After all, you wouldn’t ask for advice on how to run a business from someone who has never run a business—nor would you ask your dentist to assess your heart’s health.

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Finding the right authorities who can help us develop deeper insight into our strengths and weaknesses requires a few steps of due diligence:

  • Find those you believe might be qualified authorities to help you and research them.
  • Check the integrity of their training, skills, experience, and track record.
  • Be wary of testimonials as these can be orchestrated, false, and inauthentic.
  • Ask yourself if the authority might have their agenda in addition to helping you identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  • If you have the opportunity to develop an initial rapport with the person you seek feedback from, take time to do this so you can sense whether or not you feel you can trust their feedback.

Getting helpful feedback from others isn’t always as straightforward as it can seem. Sometimes, paying an objective third party is a necessary step.

We must remember that others have their own biases, conscious, and unconscious. They see the world through a different lens than us so the likelihood of projection is quite high. A weakness they see in you may not be a weakness in the eyes of others who are also qualified to give you the same feedback.

Look to collate feedback from a few different qualified sources and look for common patterns and themes. Don’t stop at one source.

Also, avoid cross-contamination of feedback you’ve received from one source to another. You want as pure and independent insight about your strengths and weaknesses as you can get. This way, you’ll have not only a wider scope of review but also a more thorough one that be will be more accurate.

4. Test Yourself

Testing ourselves is something we rarely do. We don’t naturally seek out opportunities to have our skills, abilities, and personality characteristics scrutinized. However, this is what will give us the purest discovery and recognition of our strengths and weaknesses.

Put yourself through a variety of assessments that test you in several ways:

  • Skill-based
  • Personality and traits
  • Breadth and depth of applicable knowledge

Consciously and deliberately putting yourself in situations to test your skills and knowledge has a much higher likelihood of helping you address your weaknesses. Taking this approach is not only considered and directed, but it is also incredibly rewarding when you start experiencing and noticing changes you are aspiring to.

While you always have the choice to simply ‘see how things go’, there are drawbacks to letting things organically unfold:

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  • You miss out on opportunities to diffuse emotional and mental discomfort emerging when your weaknesses are highlighted and emphasized.
  • You deny yourself the ability to step into opportunities and experiences you truly want.
  • You miss opportunities to recognize and capitalize on your strengths.
  • You remain stale and stuck.
  • Your mindset retains feeling a lowered agency of control to change unfavorable circumstances.

Before you throw yourself into exercises to test yourself, check your expectations. Just as you can feel validated and have your self-esteem reinforced, expect also that you might feel challenged, disappointed, embarrassed, or humiliated.

Build support from different resources. Share with others you trust—qualified and unqualified—what you are doing, how you are testing yourself, and what you might be scared of. You don’t have to walk the vulnerable path of discovering your strengths and weaknesses alone.

Sharing your experiences and discoveries with others helps you cement whatever lessons you learn and lessen the weight of emotional and mental discomfort that can unfold in the testing process.

Also, pick wisely when and how you are going to test yourself. You don’t need to do them all at the same time. Too much feedback can be mentally and emotionally overwhelming. Personal development work is most effective when done in batches with time and space to rest in between.

As your insight grows around your strengths and weaknesses, give yourself time to accept and become familiar with what you have just discovered. Give yourself time to consider and adjust to changes you might consider making. One by one, address those changes.

5. Repeat the Process and Re-assess

Repeatedly looking at the previous steps at different times in your life is an invaluable life skill. The more we become adept at assessing and testing our strengths and weaknesses, the more it becomes a normal and healthy part of our life’s journey.

Rinsing and repeating the process carries many benefits. You can progress toward your goals faster. You improve your resilience. You can recognize opportunities that will be more enjoyable for you versus those you can expect to feel more challenged and uncomfortable. You can also orchestrate the times when you need to feel more in control of choosing better timing to strategically immerse yourself into uncomfortable challenges.

The most wonderful discovery you’ll reach through repeatedly reviewing your strengths and weaknesses over time is that there are no real strengths and no real weaknesses. It becomes more about recognizing where and when your blend of unique skills, attributes, and knowledge are harmonious, helpful, and appropriate and where and when they aren’t.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways that you can recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and there are also many ways you can try to tackle them. If you’re unsure what to do, just start with these 5 steps and you’ll be good to go!

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More About Strengths and Weaknesses

Featured photo credit: Patrick Hendry via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Malachi Thompson III

High-Performance Consultant

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

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How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

Quitting smoking is the easiest thing in the world. Some people quit smoking a thousand times in their lives! Everyone knows someone with this mindset.

But this type of change is superficial. It doesn’t last. For real, lasting change to take place, we need to consider the quadrants of change.

Real change, the change that is fundamental, consistent, and longitudinal (lasting over time) has to happen in four quadrants of your life.

It doesn’t have to be quitting smoking; it can be any habit you want to break — drinking, biting your nails, overeating, playing video games, shopping, and more.

Most experts focus on only one area of change, some focus on two areas, but almost none focus on all four quadrants of change. That’s why much of change management fails.

Whether it is in the personal life of a single individual through actions and habits, or in a corporate environment, regarding the way they conduct their business, current change management strategies are lacking.

It all stems from ignoring at least one part of the equation.

So, today, we will cover all four quadrants of change and learn the formula for how to change fundamentally and never go back to your “old self.”

A word of warning: this is simple to do, but it’s not easy. Anyone who tells you that change is easy is either trying to sell you something, or they have no idea what they’re talking about.

Those who want an overnight solution have left the article now, so that leaves you, me, and the real process of change.

The Four Quadrants of Change

There are four areas, or quadrants, in which you need to make a change in order for it to stick. If you miss or ignore a single one of these, your change won’t stick, and you will go back to your previous behavior.

The four quadrants are:

  1. Internal individual – mindset
  2. External individual – behavior
  3. Internal collective – culture/support system
  4. External collective – laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

All four of these quadrants of change may sound like they could carry change all by themselves, but they can’t. So, be sure to implement your change in all four quadrants. Otherwise, it will all be in vain.

First Quadrant — Internal Individual

This quadrant focuses on the internal world of an individual, and it concerns itself with the mindset of a person.

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Our actions stem from our thoughts (most of the time), and if we change our mindset toward something, we will begin to process of changing the way we act.

People who use the law of attraction fall into this category, where they’ve recognized the strength of thoughts and how they make us change ourselves.

Even Lao Tzu had a great saying regarding this:

“Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.” [1]

One of the most impactful ways you can make a change in this quadrant is to implement what James Clear calls identity-based habits. [2]

Instead of prioritizing the outcome of a change (ex.: I want to lose 20 pounds), you prioritize your identity as a person (I want to become/remain a healthy person).

Here are a couple of examples for you to see the strength of this kind of resolution:

I want to watch many movies = I am a cinema lover
I want to clean my apartment = I am a clean person
I want to harvest my crops = I am a harvester (farmer)
I want to swim = I am a swimmer

This quadrant is about changing the identity you attach to a certain action. Once you re-frame your thinking in this way, you will have completed the first of the quadrants of change.

Second Quadrant — External Individual

This quadrant focuses on the external world of an individual and concerns itself with the behavior of a person.

This is where people like Darren Hardy, the author of the Compound Effect reside. Hardy is about doing small, consistent actions that will create change in the long run (the compound effect).

You want to lose 30 pounds? Start by eating just 150 calories (approximately two slices of bread) less a day, and in two and a half years, you will have lost 30 pounds.

The same rules apply to business, investing, sports, and multiple other areas. Small, consistent actions can create big changes.

This works — I’ve read 20 extra pages a day for the past two years, and it accumulated into 90 books read in two years. [3]

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Here, you have two ways of dealing with change behaviorally: negative environmental design and positive environmental design.

Negative Environmental Design

This is when you eliminate the things from your environment that revert you to the old behavior. If you want to stop eating ice cream, you don’t keep it in your freezer.

If you want to stop watching TV, you remove the batteries from the remote and put them on the other side of the house (it works!).

Positive Environmental Design

This is when you put the things that you want to do withing reach — literally!

You want to learn how to play guitar? Put your guitar right next to your sofa. You want to head to the gym? Put the gym clothes in a backpack and put it on top of your shoes.

You want to read more books? Have a book on your nightstand, your kitchen table, and on the sofa.

You can even combine this last trick with my early advice about removing the batteries from your remote control, combining the negative and positive environmental designs for maximum effect.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

If you just change your behavior and leave your intentions (thoughts) intact, your discipline will fail you and the real change won’t happen.

You will simply revert back to the previous behavior because you haven’t changed the fundamental root of why this problem occurs in the first place.

That is why you need to create change both in the first quadrant (internal individual — mindset) and the second quadrant (external individual — behavior). These quadrants of change are two sides of the same coin.

Most change management would stop here, and that’s why most change management fails.

No matter how much you focus on yourself, there are things that affect our lives that are happening outside of us. That is the focus of the two remaining quadrants.

Third Quadrant — Internal Collective

This quadrant focuses on the internal world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the culture of that collective.

There are two different distinctions here: the Inner Ring and the Outer Ring.

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The Inner Ring

These are your friends and your family. The Inner Ring is the place where the social and cultural norms of your friends and family rule.

So, if everyone in your family is overweight and every lunch is 1,000 calories per person, then you can say goodbye to your idea of becoming healthy.

In this case, the culture of your group, the inner norms that guide the decisions, actions, thoughts, ideas, and patterns of behaviors are all focused on eating as much as possible. [4]

You need to have the support of your Inner Ring if you want to achieve change. If you don’t have this support, the the best way to proceed is by either changing your entire Inner Ring or distancing yourself from it.

Beware — most Inner Rings won’t accept the fact that you want to change and will undermine you on many occasions — some out of habit, some due to jealousy, and some because supporting you would mean that they have to change, too.

You don’t have to cut ties with people, but you can consciously decide to spend less time with them.

The Outer Ring

The Outer Ring consists of the culture of your company, community, county, region, and country. For example, it’s quite hard to be an open-minded person in North Nigeria, no matter how you, your friends, and your family think.

The Outer Ring is the reason why young people move to the places that share their value systems instead of staying in their current city, county, or country.

Sometimes, you need to change your Outer Ring as well because its culture is preventing you from changing.

I see this every single day in my country, where the culture can be so toxic that it doesn’t matter how great of a job you have or how great your life currently looks — the culture will change you, inch by inch, until you become like it.

Fourth Quadrant — External Collective

This quadrant focuses on the external world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the systems, teams, laws, and rules of that collective.

This quadrant is about the external manifestations of the collective culture. If the majority of the environment thinks in a certain way, they will create institutions that will implement that way of thinking.

The same rules apply to companies.

One example for companies would be those managers who think that employees are lazy, lack responsibility, and need constant supervision (or what is called Theory X in management).

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Then, those managers implement systems that reflect that kind of culture– no flexible work hours, strict rules about logging work, no remote work, etc.

Your thoughts, however, may be different. You might believe that people want responsibility, that they are capable of self-direction, that they can make good decisions, and that managers don’t need to stand on their necks if they want something done (this is called Theory Y in management).

Then, you would want to have flexible working hours, different ways of measuring your productivity (for example, not time on the job but work produced), and remote work, if possible for your profession.

This is when you enter into a conflict with the external collective quadrant. Here, you have four options: leave, persevere, neglect, and voice.

Leave

You can simply leave the company/organization/community/country and go to a different place. Most people decide to do this.

Persevere

This is when you see that the situation isn’t good, but you decide to stick at it and wait for the perfect time (or position) where you can implement change.

Neglect

This is where you give up on the change you want to see and just go with the flow, doing the minimal work necessary to keep the status quo.

These are the people who are disengaged at work and are doing just the bare minimum necessary (which, in the U.S. is around 65% of the workforce).

I did this only once, and it’s probably the only thing I regret doing in my life.

Voice

This is where you actively work on changing the situation, and the people in charge know that you want to create a change.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your company, community, or your country; you are actively calling for a change and will not stop until it’s implemented.

Putting It All Together

When you take it all into account, change is simple, in theory, but it isn’t easy to execute. It takes work in all four quadrants:

  1. Internal individual — mindset
  2. External individual — behavior
  3. Internal collective — culture/support system
  4. External collective — laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

Some will require more work, some less, but you will need to create a change in all four of them.

But don’t let that discourage you because change is possible, and many people have done this. The best time to start changing was yesterday, but the second best time is today.

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Featured photo credit: Djim Loic via unsplash.com

Reference

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