Learning how to find your strengths is a lifelong process. It’s not always obvious what we’re good at, which is why we spend years honing our natural skills from a young age. Even in your 20s, 30s, 40s or 80s, you continue to learn about yourself and what you’re good at.
Confusing matters is the fact that “strength” is not the same as “talent” or “passion.” A strength is something you’re good at and that adds measurably to your own happiness and success in the workplace.
Naturally, this confuses some people. If you’re screaming internally “I don’t know my strengths!” you can stop. Many people, even later in life, have this problem. If you aren’t certain how to identify your strengths and weaknesses, the following steps will help you do just that.
Moreover, they’ll help you in life as well. The average person spends 35 or so hours a week at work, which is a significant chunk of your waking time. Given that, improving your skills in the workplace can’t help but translate to every other arena.
Differentiate Between Strengths and Skills
When first learning how to find your strengths, you need to understand the difference between true assets and simple learned behaviors. The two masquerade as the same thing, but they aren’t. One is a task you have learned to do well and the other is a way in which you offer significant value to your workplace.
The same is true of talents and passions. Because you have a natural ability at speaking doesn’t mean you like it; talent isn’t necessarily a strength. Because you love decoupage does not mean it will prove a strength in an insurance office; passion isn’t necessarily a strength.
For example, you may be a skilled typist but typing may still not be a strength of yours. It is something you learned to do – in school, at the reception desk, while writing reports. Knowing how to use the tool of typing well is not the same as leveraging typing to achieve your best work life.
That’s not to say typing is not a strength; for some people, it is. But is it for you? Is it the way you feel most useful to your company, and is it the skill that gets you the most attention and reward?
The latter point is critical. If typing doesn’t light you up, then you won’t pursue it as an area of continuing excellence. Instead, look for the skills that you do well and that enhance your overall work experience, such as:
- Offering creative visual talents to newsletters and pamphlets
- Meeting with clients and drumming up excitement about new projects
- Organizing events and delegating to others’ whose strengths are appropriate
- Identifying areas of lost revenue in supply chains
Learning how to find your strengths is a process of finding what you’re truly excited about. Then, once you know, you can actively improve that skill.
Make Note of What You Get Thanked For
When you work hard, you want people to notice. You might even feel burned when they don’t. The truth is, however, that it’s what they truly appreciate that matters most – and what they truly appreciate, they will tell you about.
Learning how to find your strengths can be as simple as making note of what you get thanked for. Remember, a strength is not just something you enjoy or that adds value to your life. It’s a talent or skill that makes you more useful to others as well.
Ergo, an easy way to identify at least some of your strengths is to start paying attention to when you get thanks. We often get a nice thank you for gifts, for an outfit compliment, for holding a door. But there are deeper thank yous as well, including:
- Times you helped out when you didn’t have to
- Differences you made at corporate events or trade shows
- The way you stepped in with a client or customer
Those genuine, situational thank yous are a major clue about when and why people really appreciate you. Start listening closely to your kudos and see what you can learn.
Enlist Your Network in Identifying Personal Strengths
Still not sure what your strengths are, or even how to find your strengths? Ask your network! This can include everyone in your life, from family and friends to your own partner.
In a workplace environment, however, it most likely means:
- Your boss and higher-ups
- Your coworkers
- Clients or customers you know well enough to ask
- Vendors or others who work closely with your business
- Business partners
Not sure how to approach people? There are two basic ways, depending on the type of relationship:
- Closer and less formal: If you know someone well enough to impose on them slightly, ask them to write down and send you three situations in which they’ve been really impressed with you. This is amazing feedback for identifying patterns.
- Less intimate and more formal: Business acquaintances, vendors and clients are great sources of information, but you might feel unsure how to approach without seeming like you’re fishing for compliments. A nice white lie can do the trick. Tell them “I’m taking a course on strengths in the workplace, and one of the assignments is to ask others what mine are.” Everyone wants to help, and they’ll probably step right up!
If you have access, it’s always great to get feedback from VIPs. Have inroads in the C Suite? Know people on the board? Even if it feels vulnerable, go ahead and ask them for feedback on your strengths and weaknesses, and put the information to use right away.
Remember: Tests Can Tell You How to Find Your Strengths!
Yes, it’s true. Your high school teacher wasn’t selling you a bill of goods; tests actually can help you with understanding your strengths. Questionnaires aimed at unearthing your hidden talents and assets are quite useful when you’re starting out.
This is especially helpful if your network didn’t give you much to go on. Or perhaps you were surprised at some of the feedback you got – who knew you had leadership skills in meetings?? – and want to build on that information.
Here’s a comprehensive lists to try. Scroll through carefully, as some are targeting toward interpersonal skills and some toward internal ones; some are good for teams, while others are better for individuals. Take a few of the free ones, and if you want to dive deeper, you can.
Put Your Strengths to Work
Once you know what they are, it’s time to stress-test your strengths. This will help you check a few important boxes:
- Make sure what you view as a strength is something others view as a strength as well. Strengths are about helping others as well as pleasing yourself, so if it’s missing the mark, this will let you know.
- Find out if others would like to see improvement in areas of strength. For instance, you might have a natural ability at working with clients, but your company wants you to put in some time learning the software system before you take on bigger clients.
- Make mental notes of how happy you are engaging in the task. Does it fulfill you? Do you find it satisfying? Would you want to keep doing this, even for another company?
Identifying areas that need improvement will help you make the most of your strength. And, in some cases, it will help you see what you don’t want to do, even if you thought you did.
Eliminate Weaknesses to Prop Up Strengths
Another important step in a goal such as “how to find my strengths and talents” is finding your weaknesses. Weaknesses are never helpful, of course. But sometimes, your foibles will actually work against your strengths, diminishing them and reducing your success.
Consider the worker who is excellent at public speaking and so is the perfect choice for giving reports to big audiences. Except … they don’t put in enough time preparing for presentations. Being comfortable speaking on the fly, unfortunately, isn’t the same as being equipped to answer audience questions in detail.
If you have any similar flaws that are dragging down your biggest assets, correct them! How do you find out? Network again.
This is an even more uncomfortable conversation to have than strengths, but do it. Also pay close attention to your wrist slaps and performance reports. What did you get dinged for, and how can you correct it?
If you take the time to identify both weaknesses and strengths, and to make use of all that information going forward, you’re bound to see more success at work and in life!