For those of you who know me, you'll know it's appropriate that my first blog falls on the 4th of July. For those of you who don't know me, that sentence tells you I'm American. In person, the giveaways are my accent and the volume being a few decibels louder than necessary.
I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio—home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Lebron James, Bone Thugs N Harmony, and the Drew Carey Show. I've been lucky enough to live in NZ for five years now and consider myself a true AmeriKiwi.
Despite this, I still notice some differences between Americans and Kiwis (insert surprised face here!)
There are the obvious things I'm kind of getting used to: metric system, spelling, portion sizes, rugby and netball.
One thing that continues to surprise me is the impact of Tall Poppy Syndrome. Wikipedia defines this as "aspects of a culture where people of high status are resented, attacked, cut down, strung up or criticised because they have been classified as superior to their peers".
I run workshops on Developing your Strengths in all sorts of workplaces. Time and again, I'm reminded how uncomfortable people are with owning and verbalising their personal strengths.
To be honest, it's mind-boggling because one of my absolute favourite topics of conversations is: myself. And even more enjoyable: my strengths.
So, colour me shocked! I've seen people more excited for a dentist appointment than discussing their strengths.
Attendees remind me 'that's not what we do here'. (Subtext: 'Listen you crazy AmeriKiwi, we barely enjoy talking about ourselves, let alone telling people what we do exceptionally well.')
I challenge this. Mostly because it's not helpful. It's a disservice to yourself and your team to keep your strengths private.
The more we know about our strengths, the more we can understand what makes us special and how we can use our talents to do things exceptionally well.
After all, the goal is to get the best of you at work, both as an individual and as a team member. The cookie-cutter approach doesn't work—situations that bring the best out of one person might bring the worst out of another. Which is why it's important to understand how you, and those you work with, work best.
I've found we naturally work with others the way we want to be worked with. But what if that's not the way they want to be worked with?
Here's an example. I have a habit of going off with the first idea that hits me, without weighing up all the options. I realised early the benefit of involving other people in my brainstorming, particularly people great at analysis and strategic thinking. I'd lean on my colleague *Bob* for his strength.
Kristen: Hey Bob! Quick question for you...
Bob: There's no such thing as a quick question.
Kristen: *obliviously* Ha! Well, I've been asked to think about [xyz]. What do you think about [this, this, and that]. What do you think about [abc]?
Bob would offer me a few pieces of insight and I would walk away believing we just had an amazing brainstorming session. It wasn't until we developed a better relationship that we finally had this conversation:
Bob: You know, Kristen, I really enjoy being able to provide you my opinion, but it's quite hard for me to have these pop-in brainstorming chats. I'm someone who needs time to consider the situation and get my thoughts in order. It also takes me a great deal of time to get back to my original task when I'm interrupted.
Kristen: (mortified and recalling the multiple times I had done this) Oh...
I was valuing Bob for his analytical thinking processes, but not creating the environment where he could shine.
This conversation allowed us to develop a process that brought out the best in both of us and made our collaboration so much more enjoyable.
But, I have to be honest. While I'm thrilled Bob told me this eventually, my initial thoughts were, Why are you just telling me this now? Why didn't you tell me this seven brainstorms ago? I wouldn't have been offended and it would've saved us both stress.
I thought this because, quite frankly, that's what I would do if there was something I didn't like. But, again I'm reminded of the differences in cultures. Since I've moved to NZ, I've heard countless comments about how upfront Americans are.
Those who have traveled to the States remark that they enjoyed how open and willing Americans were to make conversations with them, even as complete strangers. But equally it struck them how open and eager Americans were to share their personal story.
My 4th of July challenge to you is to channel your inner American and tell your strengths story—start by answering these questions:
What are you great at?
What value do you add to your team?
What brings out the best of you?
What do you need from others to help you use your strengths?
Now, go share that with someone else.