I love to attend conferences. The wealth of knowledge all collected in one place, the people – experts, converts, neophytes, practitioners, researchers, teachers, all gathered for one shared purpose, is energizing – and exhausting. I have learned a lot from the various conferences I have attended in the last few years. I have built great connections. I have even co-managed two conferences – which is a lot of fun!

But one experience has stuck with me for several years. When I close my eyes, I can almost transport myself back to this experience. It was a clear example of about how strengths work, and sometimes not so much!

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash
Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

It was the 4th IPPA World Congress in Orlando in 2015. I decided to volunteer as much as possible as a room moderator both to give back to the field of positive psychology and to be able to network. It was a wonderful experience. I was able to meet the presenters. In some cases, I think I was actually able to help – not just by facilitating or organizing the room, but by being there and offering encouragement and from time to time a hug.

One moderating experience stands out though – because it taught me something new about character strengths. I was lucky enough to be the moderator for the session on the last day called “The Future of Work and Organizations in Positive Psychology” chaired by Meg Rao from Claremont Graduate University. This is my primary area of interest because I am a project motivator. At the time I was working in the finance industry where I see many opportunities for using Positive Psychology in creating highly functional resilient teams.

The panelists in the session were none other than Stewart Donaldson, Jane Dutton, and Kim Cameron. At the start of the session, the panelists agreed amongst themselves that they should each speak for 10 minutes. At the end of the roughly 40 minutes of speaking & change over, there would be Q & A with the (large) audience. I was to provide a 2-minute warning to each presenter.

My top character strength is Appreciating Beauty and Excellence, followed by Curiosity. At number 5 is Fairness. When I took the VIA strengths test a few weeks before the event, I was pretty comfortable with the results, and they were only slightly changed from the first time I took it right at the start of my Certificate in Positive Psychology with the Wholebeing Institute.

What I experienced on Sunday was the feeling when strengths collide – a feeling I have had many times, but have not been able to truly understand or put a name to.

The session began well. Meg Rao provided a rousing introduction to the Work and Organizations Division of IPPA, highlighted the rapid growth in the section over the last year and then gave warm and appreciative introductions and welcomes to our speakers.

Stewart Donaldson was a lively speaker and the material was very interesting. I found myself regretting that the speakers had agreed to 10 minutes each and not 15. I pushed a 2-minute warning onto the podium, and Stewart Donaldson eloquently and swiftly wrapped up. The audience clapped.

I thought about how interesting it would have been to hear more – appreciating the excellence of the speaker, curious about his views on other positive psychology topics.

Jane Dutton stood up and began to speak. She immediately grabbed our attention with her material and her vision. Again I wished they had allotted more time to each speaker, but I dutifully pushed the 2-minute warning onto the podium. Jane Dutton summarized and wrapped up. The audience clapped.

For the second time, I thought about how I would have loved to hear more – appreciating excellence right there in the room with me, curious about what more there was to say.

Kim Cameron stood up. He took a minute or so to thank his fellow speakers. He took another minute to explain how he came to this field. Then he launched into his speech proper. The clock was ticking very fast. I could see that he still had much to cover. I could feel the room swept up in his enthusiasm and his speaking. The time came to push the 2-minute timer onto the podium once more. I found myself paralyzed.

For the third time I wanted to hear more, I was curious and appreciated the excellence but to let him keep speaking was “unfair” to the other speakers. I struggled – back and forth, to interrupt, or not to interrupt that was the question. Finally, I stood, clutching the 2-minute marker in my hand. As I rose, I was given a signal not to act. I sat back down. I was thrilled – I would hear more – and appalled – it was unfair to the others!

Fortunately, Kim Cameron saved me. The motion of me trying to stand up caught his eye. He asked if that was the warning, I apologetically said it was, but that if I were to give it to him I may not escape the crowded room alive. The audience laughed and he took just two more minutes to complete his speech. Maybe one of his character strengths is fairness too!

When I am facing a decision and am moving back and forth between possible actions – much like the character Marla Hooch in a League of Their Own who does not know whether to act on signals from her teammate Dotty (Geena Davis) or the Manager (Tom Hanks) – maybe I am not just an indecisive ninny. (To check it out see here: League of Their Own – Indecision) Maybe my strengths just cannot get out of each other’s way! Being more mindful of that will allow me to make a conscious choice rather than mentally toss a coin, or maybe I can bring another strength – like humor or leadership – into play to be the decider. I learned more in that session than visions for the future in positive psychology. I learned how to be more effective and more aware of how my strengths interact.

Originally published at alle4you.com