Have you ever had one of your “go to” strengths stop working for you? You may want to consider how your strengths and talents are working for or against you, if you are experiencing the following:

*You’re not sure why people respond negatively to your strengths, and it shakes your confidence.

*People misinterpret your intentions because they can’t see past the noise, and then they start to avoid you.

*Strengths “overkill” may limit your career and credibility.

We all have natural strengths. In defining strengths generally, the Oxford English Dictionary uses descriptors such as influence, power, intensity, and potency. Utilizing and nurturing our unique bundle of strengths is a fundamental part of who we are. Whether as talents we were born with, or skills we developed over time, our strengths are often our “go to” way for getting things done. They’ve become so engrained in our behavior, we often don’t think about how we’re using them or the impact they’re having on others.

The Right Volume

Think of your strengths like the knob on an amplifier. As you turn it to a higher setting, you’re rewarded with more volume. Have you ever used headphones on a run or at the gym? Often the volume we first choose feels inadequate after a few minutes, so we inch the level up. And, if you’re like me, this notching up of the volume can happen several times over the course of one workout. The tendency to continually raise the volume happens so regularly; that many audio devices come with warnings to let you know you might be putting your hearing at risk. It seems odd, doesn’t it, that we could be raising the volume to such a degree that we don’t realize its doing us harm?

This reminds of a time when I borrowed my son’s car. As I turned the key, the stereo was blasting so loud I thought my eardrums would burst. I tried to locate the volume button to turn it down, but because I was not familiar with the car, I frantically turned and pushed buttons, until I finally found it. With my ears still ringing, I wondered how in the world my son could safely and effectively drive with the volume so high.

Our strengths can function in the same way. We grow accustomed to using them at a certain level. Then, without even realizing it, we often rely on those strengths even more. We turn the knob bit by bit, and unknowingly, make it less likely to achieve the results we really want. And worst of all, we run the risk of damaging relationships along the way.

Prior to working at FranklinCovey, I worked with Matt, a very talented individual with two degrees in his field. Matt had many strengths, and was known for his drive to get high-quality results. Efficient and organized, Matt should have been on a fast track for senior management. Instead, his career stalled. Each time a high-profile project surfaced, it was nearly always awarded to someone else on Matt’s team – often to someone who was not as technically skilled or educated as Matt. While he kept his emotions in check, he was understandably disappointed time after time.

One day, Matt asked if I would be willing to give him some honest feedback. I was happy to help him. He expressed his frustration, as he was not being asked to work on larger projects. I knew that Matt had a reputation for being somewhat difficult to work with and that his strengths of focus and drive were sometimes perceived as being rigid, demanding, and overly negative. While Matt had some superb skills and experience, he lacked the spirit of engagement, enthusiasm, and positivity. I struggled with how to share this feedback without being hurtful. However, since Matt had asked for the feedback and I wanted to help, I shared my perspective with him. I offered specific examples so that he could understand and see the unintended outcome of his strengths dialed up too high. I reminded him of the time we were in a brainstorming session and instead of slowing down and acknowledging the ideas of others; he unintentionally shut down any enthusiasm for the idea generating process. I shared with him that he was smart and savvy, but that the volume of his strength in being efficient left the impression that he saw himself as the lone genius in the room. I also shared a few emails he had sent in which his language was abrupt – maybe even harsh. He said, “I’m only trying to be respectful of people’s time and make sure we get results as quickly as possible.” After a few minutes together, I realized that Matt was completely unaware that his style and approach had created his negative reputation.

We talked about how people disengage when their input is shut down. We also talked about how a few edits to an email could shift the tone from abrupt and harsh to friendly and collaborative. I was really impressed with Matt’s reaction. Instead of taking offense or feeling hurt, he began looking for opportunities to implement the very ideas we had discussed. Before long, his co-workers took notice and little by little Matt’s projects moved forward more effectively because he focused first on his relationships with others. As a result, he started naturally dialing back the volume on the strengths that were getting in the way. Over time, Matt was invited to work on exciting projects that helped get his career back on track.

Like many of us, Matt hadn’t realized that he had been turning up the volume too high on some of his strengths. His intentions had always been good and it was easy to rely on the strengths that had served him well in the past. No one dials up the volume of their strengths with the intention of a bad outcome. Yet, it happens. If the volume of our strengths is set too high, turning it down a little can often make our strengths more effective.

And sometimes getting the volume right means choosing to use another strength altogether — one that may not be as natural to you and may need to be developed.

Different circumstances or situations call for different strengths, and we of course have many different situations in our lives, not the least of which is moving from work to home. We should be especially careful that the strengths which serve us in our career are not assumed to be the same ones needed by our families and significant others, and vice versa. An important part of getting the volume “right” is about making sure we have the right strength applied at the right time and in the right situation.