July 18 th


Part 1: What are your signature strengths?


How well do you know yourself? What are your signature strengths? Does your assessment of yourself match what others see?

When we are looking for a job, starting a business, initiating a new project or assembling a new team, it’s important to identify and leverage our strengths. Our strengths also support us when we are making transitions in our lives. So it’s important to know what they are. Too often, we are focused on what needs fixing. Advertising, mass media and politicians send improvement messages daily.

I was talking to a client recently, an executive at a multinational internet retailer. She mentioned how negative the performance review process is in her organization. The focus is on what needs improvement and the process leaves people feeling inadequate. This is common in organizations as well as in families. It has been part of our cultural conditioning. And although there is nothing wrong with improvement, it is even more productive to draw attention to what is going well.

Whether we work in an organization, run our own business, or interact with people in our families and communities, we can build an appreciative muscle. We can begin by modeling and by requesting appreciative feedback. This gives others a chance to focus on what’s working and allows us to learn about how others perceive us.

I have participated in a variety of exercises over the years that have helped me discover my strengths. Here are two easy exercises you can try yourself. The first exercise appears here. The second exercise will arrive in next week’s post.

Exercise #1: Conduct your own personal Appreciative Inquiry 360

Don the cap of a researcher. Identify five people from different areas of your life (e.g., parent, sibling, significant other, long-time friend, new friend, colleague, supervisor, direct report, client, business partner … you get the idea). Choose a variety of people who will be reflective and are willing to be honest with you. Ask them:

  • What do you most appreciate about me? Request specific examples.
  • What do you see as my unique and hallmark strengths? Specific examples.
  • What is it like to be with me when I am engaging my top strengths?
  • If you had one wish (just one) for me, what would it be? (often this reflects a strength overdone)

You can do this in person, by phone, skype, or over email. You can get some quick information over social media too, but a short interview can yield the juiciest material.

During the conversation, be as objective and curious as possible. Pretend you are conducting research for someone other than yourself. Ask follow-up questions from a place of openness. If reactivity comes up (e.g., you feel irritated or your body tightens), just notice it, breathe, and let it go. This is not a time to cross-examine or defend. Stay open and curious and have fun with the exercise.

If this feels uncomfortable, that’s okay. Giving and receiving feedback can feel awkward and a little scary. The truth is, it’s like building a muscle. The more you do it the easier it becomes. You will gain valuable information about how you are perceived and you will also strengthen your connections with the people you engage. 

Pull the data together in a way that feels playful for you and in a manner that matches your learning style. For example, you might audio-record the conversations for playback later if you’re an auditory learner. You could collect metaphors and images if you are a visual leaner. Or you could take written notes if you are a kinesthetic learner. Look for the common themes and prepare to be surprised

Take action now and comment below. Have you conducted your own appreciative 360 or something similar? What did you learn? What tips can you share? If this is new or seems timely, let us know what next step you will take. Try it out, come back and let us know what you discover!

Note: This is Part 1 of what turned into a three part series. Be sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3.

Categories : Coaching, Strengths


  1. Hi Laurie,

    I truly love this post for so many reasons. It is quite true that sometimes organizations tend not to give the best performance review. I have been fortunate in this area to have had it done right. I think your idea of finding your strengths by contacting others is a great idea, especially for those of us that are working for ourselves. As well I really enjoy the list of tips on how to deal with the emotions that may come up. I am going to take action and try this out!

  2. Thanks Sasha! I’m glad this resonates. I think it’s a great exercise for solopreneurs and small businesses too! I look forward to hearing how it goes.

  3. danielle says:

    although i am thankfully not in the corporate world any longer, this post resonated with me in terms of my family.. i think just as executives judge their employees and usually focus on the negative, sometimes as parents we do the same to our children… i am going to take those questions and tell my children those things that i appreciate in them…
    i look forward to your future posts…

    • Thanks Danielle. So glad this resonated and that you see a way to apply it with your family. No matter what business we are in, I think we can also apply it with our clients … reflecting back the best that we see in them. I look forward to hearing how it goes with your family!

  4. Jenny Shih says:

    I remember the pain of writing and delivering performance evaluations to my staff all too much… the system is set up, in so many companies, to focus on the negative. We started using the appreciative inquiry process shortly before I left — it was a more positive approach that was also helpful.

    I was thinking that the same approach could be used for solo entrepreneurs with clients when asking for feedback or conducting a client survey. I had forgotten about that approach until this reminder. Thanks for sharing this, Laurie.

    • Hi Jenny, oh yes! Absolutely, this approach can be used in any environment. Yes, for solopreneurs and clients for sure! I just mentioned that to Danielle. Glad you got to experience appreciative inquiry before you left the corporate world. It’s a whole new way of communicating and culture changes slowly and starts one person at a time. If you use it with your clients, I look forward to hearing more.

  5. Laurie, I am finally getting around to reading this and it is fantastic. I am going to ask my five people today! I think this is great and I wish I had this when I had employees in my last business!

    Can’t wait to hear the results!


  6. Tanya says:

    LOVE this! I am totally going to interview people in my life. And I love how I should pick people from different areas of my life to get perspective 🙂

  7. Laurie –
    Great! The “we can build an appreciative muscle” is a brilliant reminder of the power of choice. It’s a workout or practice just like any other. I love how you’ve interwoven this conscious/intellectual approach with the incredibly vital awareness of body reactivity. The outcome will be so much more rich an experience when embodied fully. Thanks for the helpful nuggets of wisdom!

    And then adding “playfull” and “fun” in the mix…Home Run!

  8. emelie rota says:

    I am going to interview my family and friends too! What a great way to get an outside perspective on my strengths… I always feel that coming from a place of “what can I do MORE of” will always be more productive than “what can I do LESS of.” I use this positive approach to problem-solving with my clients to great effect.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Laurie!

    • Thanks Emelie! I look forward to hearing how it goes for you. About the positive approach, I know what you mean. I find it is so much more energizing when I focus on what I can amplify than what I need to minimize or mitigate. The former fills me with energy and the latter can drain my energy. I find the same is true for my clients. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  9. I have done something similar. I learned that I shine bright when I dance and am in front of the room leading. I learned that I having very calming energy where I can put someone at ease. I learned that I have a gift for helping others and that is why I do what I do.

    Really like how you wrote this and how you gave a detailed action step for someone to do. Nice one! Can’t wait to read next weeks post.

    Alara K. Castell

    Your Sassy Spiritual Guide, guiding coaches to build their business from their heart instead of from their head so they are having fun and making money doing what they love.

    • Thanks Alara! Great to hear what you have learned about yourself. It sounds like your strengths are aligned with your work. Bravo! That’s when we shine most brightly. 🙂

  10. Kathleen says:

    Laurie… thank you so much! Love the encouragement and clear direction to go to different people in my tribe to get honest feedback from. Particularly from the different groups in my life… family, lover, friends, work associates. This is very insightful. It would help to get a well rounded perspective. And… it reminds me to do the same for those I love who hold tremendous meaning for me. Never forget that they may not really know, or remember, and may not feel comfortable asking. All of us need to hear specific mirroring so we can really see ourselves and develop our talents.

    Great post! look forward to part 2!

  11. Helen Herman says:

    This is terrific Laurie. I can really see how this would enhance any relationship, personal or business. I’m going to give it a try! Love the focus on appreciation rather than deficiency. We always get what we look for. And speaking of that, I’m looking forward to more awesome posts from you! 😉

    • Helen, this is so true, we do get what we look for. And this exercise is great on so many levels. We get information about ourselves, we hear how others perceive us, we invite others into an appreciative strengths-based stance, we have an arsenal to turn to when our inner critic takes up too much space, and we enhance our relationships with the people we interview. It’s powerful! If you try it, chime back in and let us know what you discover. Thanks for your support! 🙂

  12. I love this Laurie. I was encouraged to do a strengths analysis this winter, although I love your questions more than the ones I used. What came back was really interesting for me. One person even compiled a 3 page word document, with action items for me… An interesting benefit of doing this exercise was this. I found that the people who participated are now open to discussing things with me on a different level. They challenge me to really shift and grow. They seem invested in my development in a way they weren’t before. As though my asking of these questions, opened a new window for us to look through.

    Life gets busy and I hadn’t stopped to think how precious this was, until this afternoon. Thanks for reminding me how valuable this was for me. When I was doing the exercise I would never have guessed it’s long term benefits.

    Thanks Laurie!

    • Loralee, it sounds like you had a rich experience with your strengths analysis. A 3-page document? Wow, it sounds like someone was thorough. These exercises yield a gold mine of information and can really open up relationships. Congratulations and thanks for the reminder that we reap the benefits of this work for a long time to come. Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂