A pilot study of strengths use and self-concordance in difficult situations, by Sophie Francis.

The science of strengths that informs positive psychology is increasingly attractive to coaches and organisations, spurred by the growing body of scholarly and popular books, empirical research, strengths assessment tools and interventions.

Research show that people who use their strengths experience greater wellbeing, vitality, confidence and goal attainment. In the workplace, strengths use is linked with performance, engagement and satisfaction. Less is known about how people use their strengths in different situations and adversity, such as dealing with conflict in the workplace or coping with difficult transitions.

Sophie Francis’ research explores how people use their strengths during difficult situations. She examines the link between strengths use and self-concordance, the feeling that a person’s goals and actions are consistent with their developing values, self and life direction. This is one factor that might help us better understand the mechanism behind beneficial outcomes of strengths use. Her findings shed new light on how people can use their strengths to develop themselves and turn challenges into opportunities for personal growth and renewal.

The study, a pilot, was conducted by Sophie Francis and Dr Grace McCarthy, of the University of Wollongong, in association with the Langley Group and Emotional Intelligence Worldwide. Findings were presented at the 4th Australian Positive Psychology and Wellbeing Conference in Melbourne.

Summary Report

Francis, S. (2014). Strengths use and self-concordance in difficult situations: A pilot study. Poster presentation at the Fourth Australian Positive Psychology and Wellbeing Conference, Melbourne, February.

Francis, S. (2014). Strengths use and self-concordance in difficult situations: Research report Emotional Intelligence Worldwide, February.

The concepts of strengths and self-concordance have been correlated theoretically and empirically within positive psychology and coaching psychology literature. Linley and Harrington (2006) argue strengths use is consistent with Roger’s (1963) actualising tendency. The organismic valuing process is also linked to theories of growth through adversity (Joseph & Linley 2005). Strengths, self-concordance and growth (PWB) has subsequently been empirically correlated (Govindji & Linley 2007). This research aimed to further validate the link between strengths use and self-concordance and explore how strengths use and self-concordance play out when overcoming difficult situations. The pilot study used a quantitative online survey to confirm previous findings and identify new and preliminary data in contexts of adversity faced by executives, coaches and others within a sample (N=281) of the working population. The Strengths Use and Organismic Valuing Scales (Govindji & Linley 2007) were used to measure strengths and self-concordance, along with a questionnaire designed to elicit exploratory data around strengths use, strengths adaption and self-concordance in difficult situations. Strengths use and self-concordance were significantly and strongly associated in this study, providing further evidence that the more people use their strengths, the more they feel in touch with their feelings, needs, values and life direction. The study also found evidence of strengths adaption and the organismic valuing process when overcoming difficult situations, and tentatively suggests people increasingly diversify and draw on lesser used strengths in the most challenging situations. These findings lend weight to the contextual, adaptive and evolutionary view of strengths, particularly the potential to grow our strengths in difficult situations, not just achieve growth by using our strengths. Results should be interpreted in the context of a non-representative sample that displayed high strengths use and self-concordance.

Key words: Strengths use, self-concordance, organismic valuing process, growth through adversity.

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