'So, what are your strengths?' - does this question make you freeze on the spot?

Updated: Jun 26

Are you dismissing strengths that you could be embracing? Do you struggle to list the things you’re good at? Do you ignore things you think could be strengths because you perceive other people to be better at them? Many people find it hard to talk about the things that they are good at. I've described a personal anecdote below, and some of the reasons we're inherently bad at shouting about our skills. Plus, keep reading for some tips on how to start owning your strengths and confidently shouting about them.


During a career break, I thought it timely to update my CV. It’s not a task I particularly enjoy at the best of times, but combined with taking a break from work, I found it near impossible to recall things I excelled at. I kept drawing blanks. I could recall job titles, and projects I’d managed and results I had delivered but listing skills left me in the dark. I would write things then scribble them out, noting someone else who was much more skilled than I. I’d think of something else and then tell myself ‘but that’s not what an employer wants to hear about’. The things I knew were my strengths, I discounted for being too ‘soft’ and ‘fluffy’. It wasn't until I was having my own coaching session when I realised that I had been brushing off many of my strengths because they weren't technical or didn't sound particularly unique. When I reflected that much of the success I'd had in my career was related to my ability to connect with people, to have great empathy and to bring others together, it started to dawn on me that that may actually be a key strength of mine.


Why do we find it so hard to shout about what we’re good at and too quickly dismiss our strengths?

We’re overly critical of ourselves - we find it much easier to point out strengths in other people, even if we have the same skills. We also tend not to talk to ourselves with the same levels of kindness and instead opt for negative self-talk. Watch out too if you’re a bit of a perfectionist - if you’re always trying to be better, you might find it even harder to name what you’re good at as you can never meet your own high standards.


You link confidence with being egotistical - many people link having confidence in your abilities with negative connotations. Heaven forbid you tell people you’re good at something, they might think you’re bolshy, bragging, self-assured, arrogant, assertive, cocky.....


You compare to others - to friends, family, colleagues, even people you don’t know. We’re quick to dismiss our own strengths because there maybe someone who is better than we are. Of course, this is true in some cases, but that does not diminish or take away from your skills.


Strengths have flip sides - all strengths tend to have another side to them which leads us to question if it can still be listed at a strength. A classic for me is that people comment on how organised I am. I know I am deep down. I am highly organised with my work - I plan, prioritise and have a spreadsheet for everything. But that doesn’t stop me from tarnishing that comment by replying ‘Gosh, you wouldn’t think that if you saw the state of my desk!’ Does occasionally having a messy office take away from my strengths as an organised planner? No. However, I do have to check myself in these instances. Being good with detail is a much sought-after skill. The flip side of that might mean you tie yourself in knots with the minutiae of your project, causing you to work lengthy hours.


Randomly applying labels - when I was updating my CV, I had discounted a huge array of abilities, skills and things that were unique about me by labelling them as ‘soft’. Embracing my skills led me to a fulfilling career with purpose. Be careful how you label your strengths and think broadly about all the skills that you have.


I believe we are all unique with our own skills and strengths to bring to our work and life. Too many of us shy away from talking about the things we are good at. If this sounds familiar, think about the things below to help build your confidence:

  • Think about what comes naturally to you - at work and at home. You may not class these as strengths because you find them easy. Not everyone will so add them to your strengths list.

  • Ask some people close to you, and who you trust, to highlight three things they think you’re good at. They may see things you don’t and will spark ideas.

  • Revisit your career highlights - what were you doing then that you may have forgotten about?

  • Be aware of where you discount your strengths because of random labelling. Notice your comparisons to others and negative self-talk.

  • Congratulate yourself - each week, recall three things that went well and your role in that. What was the strength you possess that played a part?

Hopefully this will help you think differently when it comes to embracing your own unique strengths and confidently bringing them to all areas of life.

Gemma Brown Coaching

Gemma Brown is a certified coach working with people to navigate successfully through transitions - be it career, relationships or life in general. Her belief is that when we confidently bring our whole selves to all areas of life, anything is possible. Transitions exist in both our personal and business life, and so often, the two fiercely overlap. Coaching with Gemma focuses on you as a whole, enabling you to identify your strengths, build confidence and to live a life with increased purpose and direction. Gemma is based in Cambridgeshire and carries out face to face coaching in the area as well as 1-2-1 coaching via Skype and Zoom. For more about Gemma, visit her 'About' page or contact her directly.

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