5 unconscious reasons why we are drawn to weakness fixing, rather thanbuilding on Strengths

Peter Charles TurnerJanuary 1st, 2020

1.     Negativity Bias: Cognitive psychology teaches us that the negativity bias is a trait that skews our perceptions, particularly in the heat of day to day professional turbulence. From an evolutionary perspective, the consequences for when things went wrong were existential compared to the potential upside of when things went right. Our radar for negativity in others is far more sensitive than our positivity radar. It served our ancestors survival well, but it can cause havoc for company culture in 2019. Don’t forget to dial down the unconscious focus on weakness, and dial up the frequency to strength-mode more consistently. 

2.     Availability bias: It may sound negative (read above!) but it is clear that we have far more weaknesses than we have strengths. In fact, the list of what humans are incapable of is infinite. And the list of what we are capable of is finite. We see the weakness in others so easily, because there are far more of them to see. What matters is not the broad areas where we are weak, but the narrow sweet spots where we are strong. Warren Buffet called it our circle of competence… and he encouraged us not to try and make it too wide. Keep it narrow and see where our collective strengths can complement each other. 

3.     Blank Slates: Some narratives contend that natural traits do not exist, that people are infinitely malleable, and all human achievement is down to effort alone. Ignoring innate dispositions, traits and characteristics, directs our focus to weakness fixing because of the assumption that we can just re-wire ourselves with more hard work. People do have an extraordinary capacity to change, but they also have characteristics that are relatively stable… let’s not ignore these characteristics but learn to leverage them. Swim with the tide of those dispositions… there is a reason why it is called a flow state… easier and faster!

4.     The failure obsession. Learning from failure is an important message with great intent and utility. However, even though its only half the story, it completely dominates the learning discussion. The ignored half of the discussion is that we also learn from our successes. We learn about the unique ingredients of winning, by studying our wins. The sole emphasis on learning from failure makes it the focal point for building success, while strengths are relegated to a token cushion, used mainly to soften the impact before hitting people with what’s wrong with them. Actually, those wins, no matter how small, are pieces of evidence to be studied with rigor. Let’s learn from our successes as much as we learn from our failures by making success an equal partner to failure in our learning journey.

5.     Grit. The idea of grit has become a ubiquitous success meme. Never, ever, ever give up! Steady on, this is of course only half of the story. Resilience is a critical trait in anyone’s journey toward a worthwhile achievement. However, sometimes. Taking your head off the brick wall, looking up, and pointing yourself in another direction might just be the best idea. Balance resilience with navigation. The focus does not always have to be just on working harder.

Pete Turner is an individual & team performance coach with 2b Limitless (www.2blimitless.com), an award-winning training and coaching company in Dubai. He has a background in applied psychology, elite level sport coaching and specializes in strengths, engagement, performance and talent in the workplace.

Blog Contributor

Peter Charles Turner