Posted by: ginalazenby | May 23, 2018

Do you know what you are good at?

The Conscious Cafe Skipton community evening in May deliberated over our strengths and how well we might know ourselves.

Are you Good at what you do …. and do you know what you are good at?

At first glance the question might seem innocuous but once you start to churn it over in your mind, it can bring up all sorts of doubts and anxieties. We don’t appear to live in a culture that values praise, certainly not at work. It is indeed possible to be employed in an organisation and never clearly know that your contribution has been of value or for you to receive feedback that highlights your strengths and good points. So the knowledge about what you do well can depend on you having a high level of self awareness or an innate positivity about yourself. For many, this is missing, so if you are not one of the lucky ones who is brought up with a strong sense of self, you can be badly affected by colleagues and superiors who feel compelled to point out everything that’s wrong with you …… instead of all that is right!  That may be water off a duck’s back for some, while for others it can erode self esteem and confidence over a lifetime.

In the intriguingly named book The Man Who Lied To His Laptop” by Stanford Professor Cliffiord Nass (watch him speak here), social science experiments showed that the famous ‘Sandwich Technique’ does not work. Say something good, insert the criticism in the middle then finish off with something good again has now been proven to be totally ineffective. Whilst it is human nature to receive compliments and take them on board, anything negative cuts through us and prevents us hearing or remembering anything positive. We seem to be wired to want to get things right so feedback about shortcomings must be presented with a suggestion for specific action that can be taken to make the required change. If we can focus on what we need to do for correction, then we can move forward. Without that, our poor brain festers on the hurt of the criticism and tunes out all the positives. And we seem to have very long memories when ti comes to these hurts.

Some organisations introduce regular meetings and communication programs that foster listening and sharing which encourages positive feedback among small groups of employes. This is extremely helpful and healthy for people. If only this was common practice.

We started this May Conscious Cafe evening by sharing what we thought our strengths were, with a partner who then relayed them to the group. We then moved on to discuss a series of self-reflective questions in small groups (try the questions for yourself, the list is at the bottom of the blog post). Our end of evening feedback was about insights gained from any of the questions that we each chose to focus on.

Some insights:

  1. Portable Skills: Skills that we have developed or used in one career can be transferred and made useful in a totally different second career.  We might not recognise them at the time of making the shift but we can reflect later and see them as part of our core strength to be leveraged again.
  2. Missing Skills: There can be a tendency to focus on what is missing, perhaps from our formal education and even underplay the other strengths and skills we have gained along the way. It is important to realise that the University of Life is a great teacher! By putting a bit too much emphasis on the formal education missed, we can let it make us feel less than when we might well have gained in other areas that more than compensate.
  3. Life skills gained outside the formal workplace can be just as valuable as those gained in paid employment but sadly, they are rarely valued. Unpaid work and organisational skills at home are not recognised by society as having value and yet, they are often very similar to what many people do in their paid jobs. If we value them ourselves, then that is the beginning to having others valuing our work too.
  4. Self awareness about what we can do well seems to be a skill in itself which is generally part of professional training or perhaps comes from a mindfulness practice. If you have not had a career with good professional development, you might never have been exposed to the concept of reflecting on what you are capable of and good at. Taking up mindfulness helps develop practices of looking within and taking a compassionate and honest view of the self, which most people find enriching.
  5. Ikagai: There is an interesting Japanese concept called Ikigai.  Your ikigai is at the intersection of what you are good at and what you love doing.  Read how to use it here.
  6. Embracing it all: The Australians coined a modern term for people who embrace the many aspects of themselves … Slashies. Instead of simply being known for one profession with a hidden passion or hobby, Slashies embrace their totality .. Book-keeper/Web Designer/Singer/Songwriter/Carer … it’s all there in one long description .. the whole you. 

Profiling Can Be Useful

We discussed the value of profiling systems and whether people had a good experience of the information that they were given. Most people in a professional context are familiar with the Myers Briggs system which is actually based on the I Ching and the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung. Other systems linked to this and also coming from the east, are profiling systems that use the five elements, most familiar in chinese medicine.  The Five Institute has a free online profiling test that shows you how much you exhibit of five basic energies of water, wood, fire, earth and metal.  Most people can easily recognise and interpret the qualities of these natural elements. Here is the link if you would like to try it out and see if it resonates with how you see your strengths and capacities. These profiling systems can be useful if they add to your self knowledge and affirm what you know about yourself. 

The whole notion of asking somebody what they are good at seems to go against the grain of a reserved British culture. Nobody seems to feel comfortable blowing their own trumpet and the notion of Tall Poppy Syndrome says it all about cutting down those who appear to shine and get a bit too big for their boots. And yet, it is really helpful to know what you can safely take on as a rewarding and useful role in society and be clear what it is best for you to avoid when you know it is not the best use of your time and skills. 

Setting up situations where we can be advocates for each other and be introduced to a group by someone who knows us, and cares, is one way of getting across our value and having it be known, accepted and us feel comfortable. To be able to share fluently what we can be called on to do makes us valuable and useful and is not bragging.  

As the Na’vi say (In  Avatar) “I see you”.

If you know what you are good at and you find a role that uses those skills and talents to the full, and you also love that work, then you are truly blessed!

This arrived in my inbox this morning (thank you Alessandro Ferullo) and I think it is a good way to end and reflect this discourse.


Those who know others are intelligent

Those who know themselves are truly wise.

Those who master others are strong;

those who master themselves have true power.

Tao Te Ching


Next Conscious Cafe meeting is Monday June 18th before our summer recess.

List of the Questions we asked ourselves …… try them yourself .. after you ask yourself what you are good…

  1. Have you ever been profiled? Was it helpful?
  2. Have you ever been given feedback on what you do well? (and not just areas for improvement)
  3. Are you clear about the best use of your time and energy?
  4. Are you aware of the value you bring to your work and roles?
  5. What has give you your awareness about yourself ….. your own journey … feedback?
  6. Do you actively praise others?
  7. What negative feedback/criticism have you had that has had an impact on you .. positively or negatively?
  8. Are you leveraging all that you have .. and if not why not?
  9. What makes your heart sing?

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