Strengths Aren’t Enough

feedback-thumbsYou know what’s fun? Telling someone they’re amazing. They love the feedback and welcome it with open arms. The more positive the feedback, the more they want to hear. And you’re happy to oblige because their wide eyes, big smile, and nodding head encourage you to share more examples of the ways they are amazing.

You know what’s not fun? Giving negative, or even constructive, feedback. It doesn’t feel good to hear that you are performing below average (or even average) compared to expectations. And if it doesn’t feel good to hear that feedback then it definitely doesn’t feel good to deliver such difficult information.

A few things happen when you deliver negative feedback. First, the recipient of the feedback questions everything. If the feedback is the result of a cognitive ability assessment, for example, the person will question the validity and reliability of the assessment. People who score well on an assessment never question its validity. Next, they will offer excuses for why their behaviors aren’t actually their fault (or reasons why their behavior is misunderstood). Finally, because the recipient is not open to hearing the constructive criticism, the manager cuts back on the depth or breadth of the feedback they planned to deliver.

Hence, the rise of Strengths-Based Interventions.
The theory behind Strengths-Based approaches is that you gain more by building on your strengths than by trying to improve upon your weaknesses.

Let me be clear, there is value in examining one’s strengths and capitalizing upon them. The problem is when a Strengths-Based Approach is chosen solely because it is too hard to discuss and address weaknesses. Avoiding a tough discussion doesn’t make the problem go away.

Strengths are not enough.
If your leaders lack the ability to create and communicate a vision, and you spend your time reinforcing their strength in numerical reasoning, you will still have a company that lacks a vision. Imagine if we took a Strengths-Based approach in healthcare. Your patient now has diabetes, but the good news is they’re doing an excellent job managing their blood pressure. Telling someone they have diabetes and will have to make major lifestyle changes to protect their long-term health is a very difficult message to deliver. Celebrating good blood pressure is easy. A good doctor would deliver both messages, because they both matter.

Strengths are overrated.
Before you take a Strengths-Based approach, ask yourself why you want to go that route. Do you want to celebrate each person’s strengths and help them learn more about themselves? Great. Are you taking the Strengths-Based approach because it’s too hard to tell your employees they lack the fundamental skills necessary to be successful? If so, it’s time to address your weakness of delivering tough feedback.