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'The strength to which this irritating weakness is related'

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

I heard this phrase on RNZ National over the weekend—it was used to talk about the illusion of perfect relationships. Philosopher Alain de Boton was interviewed about his latest book Calm: Educate yourself in the art of remaining calm, and learn how to defend yourself from panic and fury.

Perversely, I must report that listening jolted me from my Sunday morning calm to some excitement.

That phrase, 'the strength to which this irritating weakness is related' connected to the way I've been thinking about Gallup Strengths for Tea & Toast Online with my colleague Kristen Gyorgak.

Orange tropical fish
Tropical fish, Kiril Aglichev on Unsplash.

The image of the fish and the water is central to understanding the Strengths model.

We swim best when we are in water that suits us—and we may not even notice the water because we are so comfortable there. That 'water' may be a competitive environment, an opportunity to help others, or the chance to solve a problem (or many other things). It's not until someone else comments on how well we swim that we realise we have strength in that water.

Sometimes, seeing others flounder helps us recognise our strengths, and theirs. As we 'stay home, save lives' we've had lots of opportunity to see how others have responded to changes.

What has been easy for you may be proving challenging for someone in your bubble or at work. You may have found yourself becoming annoyed by someone else's inability to understand or achieve something. If it's so obvious for you, why can't they do it too?

Applying de Boton's encouragement to look for the related strength to that irritating weakness captures another image central to strengths: that of balconies and basements. We're on the balcony of our strengths when they are working for us and those around us. We're in the basement of our strengths when we overuse or misapply them, instead of aiming them at the situation.

People with futuristic or analytical talents may be able to find a different level of engagement at the moment. For them, this situation may feel like a balcony moment. But work or bubble mates with other strengths may experience that engagement as basement behaviour.

From another angle, those who are currently obsessing about grocery orders may be in the basement of the discipline that ordinarily contributes to your organised home or office. People who are in every online meeting and event may be in the basement of the significance which is usually directed at motivating and influencing others.

More than ever, it is time to be kind—to yourself and others, recognising the water may not suit everyone right now.

Use The fish & the water activity sheet for yourself, or share it with your team.


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