It was a sweaty Saturday afternoon, and a friend of mine suggested watching Paddington 2 to hide away from the heat. I was a big fan of happy ending cartoons, and this movie had everything to offer. The story was warm and truly happy for all characters but what struck me was not the cute little bear Paddington, not the touching friendships, but the prison short-tempered chef Knuckles.

Knuckles appeared a fierce prison chef, punishing anyone who dared to utter a subtle complaint about his foods. At mealtimes, the inmates all eat in silence, trying to consume awful dishes till the date Paddington arrived. Everyone was shocked at the sight of Paddington telling Knuckles how bad his foods was, triggering Knuckles’ volcanic eruption. When Knuckles was about to punch Paddington, the little bear accidentally slapped his marmalade sandwich in Knuckles’ face, mesmerizing him by its delicious taste. Instantly Knuckles recruited Paddington to learn the magical recipe for the next meal. The moment the sandwich was served, Knuckles sat quietly, face crumpled up, silently cursing himself for risking the new dish. He did not dare to come near the serving hatch until Paddington urged him on. Knuckles was speechless and incredibly touched by the sincere appreciation of everyone, and it was the moment stuck in my mind. It unfolds a beautiful Knuckles who had a burning wish of serving delicious meals but struggling for the how. It was not a Knuckles who intentionally wanted to torture other prisoners by making them eat yucky foods every day.

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In our daily life, we constantly make judgments. We assess everyone and anyone, whether they are our colleagues, teammates, bosses, friends, significant others or strangers. We seem to be assessment machines, producing assessments at every turn. Funny we tend to assess ourselves based on our intention, but very often we judge people based on their behaviors, or even worse making negative assumptions about other intents.

Easily for us to jump to the conclusion that a manager was bullying his team at the sight of him losing his temper and shouting at his subordinates. We feel annoyed, irritated and hurt when someone fires a bunch of ‘prove-it-to-me’ questions at us. We label that person rude, short, and harsh. The assessment doesn’t stop there, the moment it is stuck in our mind, everything we can see is bullying behavior or cruel manner of the person we judged. We automatically filter out all good behaviors, easily and quickly blame them for conflicts where there is nothing to do with them. We are trying to prove that our conclusion is correct, that we are right.

However, what we don’t know and can’t see is that the short-tempered manager may have Discipline in his top talent themes. Discipline is a beautiful talent, allowing Discipline people to bring a high level of organization, order, and stability of the projects and groups they work. Working with them, we are worry-free about project delivery as they always plan, they bring precision and detail orientation, and they derive satisfaction from delivering projects even before the deadline. But they hate chaos and confusion, and they are impatient with errors. Losing temper when others create unnecessary chaos is unavoidable in some situations.

The person, we label rude, short, and harsh, may have Analytical in her dominant talents. High Analytical people are logical and rigorous. They can quickly identify patterns and root issues. They love data and figures. The moment they are into a topic, they can’t help but ask endless questions to ensure the theories are sound. Making people hurt or being rude and short is not their intention.

Those people may not be aware of their behaviors which are obvious to others. Simply because those talents are their natural behaviors, thinking, and feelings. Some are aware but not able to get out of it, like Knuckles having a strong desire of cooking good foods but can’t help himself. After all, it is not their intention of bullying or being rude to others; they are keen to either bring the precision, highly effective and efficient project delivery or logical, objective and rigorous approach to the business.

Many conflicts arise from ungrounded assessments where misunderstanding about others’ behaviors occurs, being suppressed or escalated. Understanding others intention is vital in building and strengthening relationships but first of all, do we have enough understanding about talents & strengths of our team members, our business partners – the way they naturally behave, think and feel with good intentions – to have fair and grounded judgments about them? More importantly, are we helping others to become a better version of who they are or holding them back to the ugly version of Knuckles?

Written by
Pham Thi Thanh Thao

Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder. New York: Gallup Press.
Chalmers Brothers. (2005). Language and the pursuit of Happiness. New Possibilities Press.
CliftonStrengths Coaching blog

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