It was year-end, and you were longing for the one-on-one conversation with your line manager. It was one of your excellent performing years. The session started so well. You achieved all the goals, every single key performing indicator, including the stretching targets. Your smile was bright and big with the congratulations by your boss. Your heart quickened a bit when she was finally moving to 360-degree feedbacks. There were some areas for improvement. Your colleagues said you had strong opinions, and sometimes others find it hard to give you their point of view; you were sensitive, taking small actions to make them bigger than they were, leading to over thinking and massive reactions; you need to improve your emotional resilience. 

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People say you are brave to learn the truth about yourself, but I am sure regardless of how courageous you are and how professional the truth is delivered, you get hurt or even get defensive when the ugly truth is uncovered. Have you ever asked yourself why?

When I was a child, my mom sometimes boiled and simmered various types of leaves, roots, stems, and barks for a few hours to prepare the herbal medicine. I couldn’t remember anything I hated more than its awfully lingering bitter taste. I always asked my dad to count from one to one hundred, so I could take the courage to take the bowl of that black liquid with my eyes completely closed, and my nose stopped breathing. I always hated it. I hated it from the look of the herbal packed in brown paper, the sound of the extraction simmering in the cooking pot, and the smell coming out from the kitchen even though I knew sickness would say goodbye to me a few days after. But when I got a cough, I happily waited for the moment my mom poured the lemon honey syrup on a spoon, enjoyed its yummy sweet taste slowly going through my throat.

Come to think of 360-degree feedbacks I can’t help but wonder what type of sweet can be used and how to sugar coat the bitter truth in performance review sessions with my team, so they happily receive and take actions? Being exposed to Gallup StrengthsFinder, I realized that good and bad behaviors or strengths and weakness are created by one type of ‘ingredient’ – your top talents! Your dominant talents can make you proud and can also cause problems when overused. Pretty much like cooking, a proper amount of salt will make a delicious dish, but a little more can destroy the excellent balanced taste.

People with high Self-Assurance may be given feedbacks of being arrogant, overconfident and stubborn. It is the ugly side of a beautiful Self-assurance who have their internal compass, who know they can take risks, to meet new challenges, to stake claims, and most importantly to instill confidence in others and show initiative in the midst of turbulence and uncertainty. People with high Restorative in their top talents love to solve problems. They enjoy fixing problems, identifying what is wrong, and finding the solution. They bring a solution-oriented mindset to daily issues. They are not intimidated by points of pain or dysfunction. They bring courage and creativity to problematic situations. And because they tend to focus on issues, they are perceived as negative and critical; only focusing on weakness in people and situations. More interestingly, they are the toughest critique of themselves and hence overly thinking things sometimes.

Being arrogant and over-confident or being negative and critical are blind spots or raw, immature side of those talents on their development spectrum. Those weaknesses are merely an overdose of people’s exceptional talents or the raw side of it. No one wants to stay at the immature side on their development journey; everyone wants to move forward to become top-performing employees, great business partners, or inspiring leaders. Pointing out the bad side of talent alone without appreciating the beautiful side of it is like making a patient drink the herbal medicine. They get hurt because their good intentions, their talents and strengths are not appreciated. Being understood is a need of everyone, being understood opens a whole anew for people to change, being understood changes the way people see their weakness and how to overcome it. It is your choice to offer your team either herbal medicine or sweet lemon honey syrup.

Written by:
Pham Thi Thanh Thao

Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder. New York: Gallup Press.
CliftonStrengths Coaching blog

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