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Strengths Based Approach 101: What is Strengths Based Approach?

Strengths Based Approach 101: What is Strengths Based Approach?

One of a great learnings from positive psyhcology that we can take into training is strengths based approach. But what is it and how can we use it?

One of the great ways to approach life, leadership, training, coaching or any other way of working with people is so called strengths based approach.

Strenghts based approach
Why strengths based approach? And what is it, anyway?

In some ways, you can compare life to a cruise where you are a sailing boat. And on that sailing boat, weaknesses are like holes in the boat, while the strengths are like the sails of this boat. Just focusing on fixing weaknesses won’t take you far, but if holes are too big, the sail won’t really help. Yet, using the sails is what really takes us forward in life and provides much more enjoyment than fixing the holes. Even though we also need to pay attention to keeping our “holes” under control, sails are what really moves us towards the destination. (This sailing boat metaphor comes from by Robert Biswas Diener in his book Practicing positive psychology coaching).Simply put, strengths based approach is approach to people from perspective of looking for their strengths and qualities, looking how to nurture these and how to engage people in a way that will maximise the usage of those strengths.To give a bit more scientific perspective, diverse positive psychology research showed that strengths are strongly related to happiness, resilience and meaning. It also showed that focusing on strengths:

  • makes you happier

Utilizing our gifts boosts feelings of independence and confidence, makes one feel more purposeful and helps stay resilient in tough situations.

  • raises confidence and success 

As strengths are something that we are good at, usually we also feel confident when using them and it is also easier for us to achieve good results that way.

  • helps you find the right environment and goals 

Being in an environment that supports and encourages our strengths helps us flourish and feel authentic and “at home” – in such environment we have the ability to develop our full potential, both in terms of self-development and the results we are achieving.

“Research tells us that individuals who use their character strengths lead happier, more satisfying lives. Only when you understand your unique character strengths can you begin to live a life that is engaging, exciting and rewarding to YOU.”, according to VIA Institute on character.

What are strengths?

According to the Positive Psychology Institute, a strength is a natural capacity for behaving, thinking or feeling in a way that allows optimal functioning and performance in the pursuit of valued outcomes. A strength is something we’re not only good at, but we’re energized by. A strengths’ perspective empowers people, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, or (dis)ability.There are several definitions of strengths, the most used ones being
“Character strengths are the psychological ingredients for displaying human goodness and they serve as pathways for developing a life of greater virtue. While personality is the summary of our entire psychological makeup, character strengths are the positive components— what’s best in you.” (by VIA institute) and  “… a strength is a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energizing to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance” (by Alex Linley).If you are curious to dig really deep into understanding subtle nuances of strenghts and virtues, Seligman provides a detailed classification of the different virtues as well as a strengths survey that is available on his website: or on site of VIA Institute of Character: . Or grab his most comprehensive book “Character strengths and virtues”. What is really important in strengths based approach is the strong focus on discovering and nourishing positive sides of people and supporting them in using those sides.
Strenghts based approach

How can a trainer use strengths based approach?

Trainer can teach participants about strengths-based approach in general and letting them apply it to their own lives or teams, but he/she can also incorporate strengths based approach into many other topics – for example, in career development topics and motivation, but also team building and team work and leadership topics – both from perspective of using this approach and teaching participants to use this approach.

For example, if working with a team, talk about strengths can be used for bringing team closer together by inviting them to share their strengths with others (assessments and cards can be very helpful tool for this – Trainers Toolbox will publish more info on these tools soon), or even better, asking colleagues to “nominate” each other for certain strength.
Alternatively, or as the next step in the session, strengths based approach can be used for the team to discuss which strengths they have as a team (bringing strengths from individuals together), and in that way encouraging feeling of many resources that the team has, innovation in how to tackle a certain problem, and promoting the feeling of pride in own team. Ok, I am convinced. How can I incorporate strengths based approach in a training? You can use strengths based approach in training in different ways:

  • Become an ambassador for strengths based approach with other trainers, leaders, teammates: take a mindset of appreciating strengths and positives that you notice in people and share that mindset with others!
  • Use it with participants seeing them through strengths-focused perspective, helping them discover and use own strengths (this is especially powerful for a coach, even more than a trainer): through questions to explore strengths and mindset, using strengths assessments and games with strengths, such as strengths cards (soon you will find few new practical posts on this topic on Trainers Toolbox)
  • Don’t forget that the first great place where trainer can use this is with himself/herself – discovering more about own strengths and seeing how to employ these more in own life and work

Where can I learn more on how to use these approach?

For details on how to use each of these ways, you can check our following posts, which will dig deep into ways to use strengths based approach.

These post will be coming soon on Trainers Toolbox.

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