There’s a big focus on weaknesses in the world these days. It seems like people want to balance themselves out by developing their weaknesses – to become rounded. Previously, I’ve argued that it’s best not to be rounded, that we’re better off focusing on our strengths. But if we do this, we will still have weaknesses, so what do we do about them? That’s what this article is about.
First of all, why this focus on weaknesses, why are they so alluring? I want to suggest an explanation for why we’re so weakness-focused, and offer some suggestions on working around weaknesses, mainly garnered from the book ‘Now, Discover your Strengths‘.
A potential employer wants to know your limitations to help decide between applicants. But even after you’re employed, you’ll hear about ‘development’, ‘areas that need work’, and so on. In certain roles this is unavoidable, because there’s a minimum standard of performance that is expected. But we’ll often see development programs with the aim of rounding off individuals, rather than trying to create specialists. This might be due to our inherent negativity bias.
Our negativity bias is well documented by researchers. There are paragons of positivity in our species, for sure, but most of us are pretty focused on the negative. Not necessarily in a debilitating way; its more of precautionary thing. It makes sense because we evolved out in the plains of Africa, where what you don’t know might kill you. Where being ostracised from the group means potential death, not just pointing and laughing in the playground.
Say you find a new fruit. If it’s safe, you get a bit of sugar and some nutrients. If it’s dangerous, you’re dead. Say you hear a rustling in the bushes. If it’s a friend, you get a laugh and a joke. If it’s a predator, you’re dead. Something negative was many times more hazardous than something positive was beneficial. Hence our bias towards the negative. The mind reacts more strongly to bad than to good. Don’t believe me? Ask a newspaper editor which headlines sell more papers!
Maybe this is why if we see a weakness, we want to fix it. It’s human nature, your mind thinks it’s important to you, to your safety. Even though you’re not living in a nomadic tribe in the African savannah (unless tribes have developed laptops and wireless internet), your instincts are wired for that environment.
What is a weakness?
If a strength is a trait that can be applied productively in a given domain, a weakness is something that hinders performance in a given domain. My inability to efficiently operate an industrial crane is not a weakness in running this website. My time-management and organisation skills are.
People are typically much better at identifying their weaknesses than their strengths. If you need help, you could look at your strengths questionnaire outputs and see what’s ranked near the bottom, or think about a particular task and see if there’s something specific holding you back.
You might be able to fool an interviewer asking you what your strengths and weaknesses are. Well, technically, they know you’re fooling them, it’s just a matter of being a better fool than the next applicant. But if you actually do have weaknesses that are relevant to your career, side-project, hobby, or whatever, they may need to be addressed. How do you deal with that, given that we’re now ‘sticking to our strengths’? Here are a few ideas:
I know. I’m contradicting my previous articles where I said to spend your time working on your strengths. But if a weakness is really holding you back and you can’t get around it, one of the options is to improve it. As was said in Now, Discover your Strengths, this isn’t really a charge for glory and success, it’s damage limitation. If you really can’t get out of or delegate a monthly presentation, you’d better work on your speaking and communication – if only a little bit. You can also look into the skills and knowledge you’ll need.
2) Create a Support System
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a naturally organised person. I don’t immediately know the most important thing to do, or use my time in the best way. To get around this, I’ve been following the Zen To Done course – to gradually adopt a decent organisation system. After 10 months, the aim is to be fully organised and more productive. That’s an example of a support system.
Or take something like social intelligence. Remembering a person’s name the second time we meet them might help us come across as more socially intelligent. This is a common problem, I hear. Actually for me, it’s more that I’m weak at recognising faces than remembering names, but I can’t think of an example for that. Anyway, there are memory techniques and mnemonic tricks you can use to do learn names, as well as remember other things about the person to bring up and ask about – makes you seem warm and friendly. That’s another example of a support system to get around a weakness – it’s not going to make you Mr or Mrs Charisma, but like I said, damage control.
Get a partner – outsource your weaknesses to someone else. This can work when starting a particular project or venture, or even within a role if there’s someone who’s skilled in one area and you in another. Outsourcing weaknesses is something we all do anyway, much to our accountants’ delight.
4) Drop it
Most of the time, a weakness isn’t a threat to you – maybe to your ego, but not to your safety. So maybe it’s time to let that go a little bit. If it’s something you can’t avoid, then you’ll have to develop it or outsource it. If it’s really important to you, then you have no choice either. But my personal opinion is that we should get over the idea that we have to be rounded people, ready for any situation that might come up. Unless your name is James Bond, it just seems like a great investment of time and effort, for very little benefit.