“Promise me you’ll always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”

A.A. Milne

What do you remember best about school? All your successes, achievements, even a school prize or two? Or that one grade where you felt you could have done better? Sad to say that humans are hard – wired to look for the negative, which probably helped us survive as a species in prehistoric times, yet means we have to work hard to keep ourselves in an optimistic frame of mind. That is where positive coaching can really add value.

As a coach for more than twenty years, I have always tried to work with the skills and talents clients do have rather than focus on anything they do less well. This seemed like a natural way of working to me. However, experience has taught me that there are still some organisations who prefer to try and ‘fix people’, attempting to get them to be good at everything.

Fast forward to my discovery of positive psychology around ten years ago and I suddenly realised that there was a whole science behind the benefits of helping people play to their strengths. My coaching mission ‘to inspire others to be the best version of themselves’ now had new weight behind it.

So what happens when we encourage people to optimise their strengths?

Have you ever noticed how people’s eyes light up when they are working on something they enjoy and also do well? Well, that’s the magic – match peoples jobs to align with their natural strengths and research shows they will be happier, more engaged, less stressed and more productive (Langley Group).  A win-win for the individual and the workplace.

How do I help people ‘own’ what they are good at?

If I ask people to tell me what they are not good at most have no trouble giving me a list of at least three things – yet many squirm in their seats when asked to define their strengths.

A good practice to help people feel more comfortable with this is by getting them to ask for feedback, which many often dread as they fear the worst. I offer a very simple form of 360 feedback, encouraging clients to ask around 10 people the following questions:

  • What 3 words would you use to describe me?
  • When do you see me at my best?
  • What is the one piece of advice you’d give me to become even more effective?

Processing this with coaching clients I encourage them to ‘savour the good stuff’ and welcome the ‘even better if’ – if they have chosen wisely they are very unlikely to hear something which they don’t already know. However, seeing themes come through from multiple sources often gives a valuable boost in confidence and a clear focus for their development.

Another helpful way of gaining insight into strengths is to use a Strengths Profile.  My favourite one is from Cappfinity, who are the global leader in strengths based assessments. Designed by Alex Linley and his team it assesses three things:

  • How good you are at something
  • How often you use that strength
  • How much it energises you

It is the energising factor which makes it my preferred choice. In my coaching, it’s great to see people ‘come alive’ when they recognise their own strengths and feel more ‘can do’ when they consider the benefits of combining several of them together to tackle a particular work challenge.

“Realising our strengths is the smallest thing we can do to make the biggest difference”

Alex Linley

Working with groups, I often use strength spotting as an activity to elicit skills and talents. I ask them to work in pairs and share stories with each other of a time when they felt proud, knowing they had done a good job. The task for the other person is to actively listen, notice strengths used and feedback on those.  It’s also an opportunity for them to develop their own coaching skills, especially listening and to get a little more comfortable with ‘blowing their own trumpet’.

What can get in the way?

So what stops people feeling proud of who they are and confident to share achievements readily with others? Whilst everyone has individual challenges, there are some common themes I’ve noticed

Firstly, in the British culture at least, this is often perceived as boasting. Having lived in Canada, I was struck by how readily people were able to take credit. The quote below sums it up well:

“People do see it in the UK as ‘bragging’ whereas in the US it’s seen as self – promotion”

Ashlie Collins, Times Article, 31 January 2023

Secondly, we all have potential ‘saboteurs’ or limiting beliefs – comparing ourselves unfavourably with others, catastrophizing or black and white thinking for example.

This is an area where positive psychology can really help and I enjoy working with clients to ‘tame their gremlins’ and develop new ways of thinking.

Lastly, I am fascinated by language and the way people talk to themselves, which is often the exact opposite of how they would talk to a friend or loved one. The following words and phrases are examples of the kind of things that need challenging for people to stop themselves and reassess  their thinking and language:

  • ‘Should’, ‘ought’ and ‘must’
  • ‘Always’ and ‘never’
  • ‘I might be wrong but …….’
  • ‘Sorry to interrupt but …….’

Becoming more aware of how this kind of language undermines their impact helps people catch themselves and reframe both their thinking and their words into more assertive and confident phrases.

So what are the benefits of positive coaching?

Simply put, I like to leave my coaching clients feeling better about themselves – appreciating their strengths, knowing how to deal with any ‘inner gremlins’ and feeling more confident to move forward. I especially enjoy working with women, many of whom can be very hard on themselves.

In group settings, I encourage people to ‘pause for praise’ and practise ‘blowing their own trumpet’ in an authentic way. This is especially useful if they are preparing for a promotion.

“I think any form of self – expression is half confidence, half sheer hard work and maybe a bit of talent thrown in”

Kate Winslet

One of the most satisfying aspects of this kind of coaching is that it has benefits at all stages of life. Dip into my recently published book to find more activities to help us stay positive in later life.

‘Ageing Rewired – how to flourish in later life’ – Lynne Dorling

Lynne is one of our wonderful Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing graduates. You can read her ‘ripple story’ here.

To learn more about the Strengths Profile tool, you can download our Strengths Profile accreditation course guide here.

If you would like to discuss running strengths training within your organisation, please contact us here and if you are interested in delivering strengths training, please check out our Langley Group Certified Trainer programmes here.

To learn more, join Learn with Sue for eBooks on 7 Ways to Apply Positive Psychology, 10 Brain-Friendly Habits and How to Lead with the Brain at Work. Plus a range of tools to help yourself and others, including questionnaires, values cards, posters and more.