At the root of most conflicts is a basic fear of being discovered to be wrong or fatally flawed. I think that is because so many of us were indoctrinated at an early age to focus on improving our weaknesses, instead of focusing on our natural strengths and talents.
“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” —Baruch Spinoza
Most of us have a poor sense of our talents and strengths. Throughout our education and careers, there is a lot of attention paid to our weaknesses. We are acutely aware of our faults and deficits, our so-called “opportunities for development.”
Parents, teachers and managers are all experts in spotting deficits. In fact, most parents, teachers and managers consider it their responsibility to point out flaws and try to help us correct them.
We have become experts in our own weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair our flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected. The research, however, is clear: we grow and develop by putting emphasis on our strengths, rather than trying to correct our deficits.
Most people don’t concern themselves with identifying their talents and strengths. Instead, they choose to study their weaknesses. A Gallup poll investigated this phenomenon by asking Americans, French, British, Canadian, Japanese and Chinese people of all ages and backgrounds the question: “Which do you think will help you improve the most: knowing your strengths or knowing your weaknesses?”
The Path to Improvement: Strengths or Weaknesses?
The answer was always the same: weaknesses, not strengths, deserve the most attention. The most strengths-focused culture is the United States, but still only a minority of people, 41 percent, felt that knowing their strengths would help them improve the most. The least strengths-focused cultures are Japan and China. Only 24 percent believe that the key to success lies in their strengths.
The majority of people in the world don’t think that the secret to improvement lies in a deep understanding of their strengths. Interestingly, in every culture, older people (55 and above) were the least fixated on their weaknesses. Perhaps they have more self-acceptance and realize the futility of trying to be what they are not.