How to Best Work with Someone who Shares Your Strengths

Working in a strengths based organization is truly amazing. When your co-workers rely on your unique set of strengths to contribute to the vision and mission of the company, it benefits everyone. It encourages you to be more engaged, do your best work, and be more of who you are supposed to be.

We often talk about how important it is to partner with those who have different strengths. If you love the big picture, but lack “get it done” strengths, it would be good to find someone (or multiple someones) to help with all the moving pieces. If you’re highly structured, it would be beneficial to team with someone who does well with change.

But what about working with someone who shares some strengths with you? The process can look very different.

Two Types of Communication

Recently, Carrie and I were working on a blog post together. Typically our internal process is for one team member to write a draft, then other team members will provide input and editing.

On this particular post, Carrie had some great insight for me. Being the newest member of our team, she was asking good questions while still learning our language.

Multiple times while editing, she asked clarifying questions about why I wrote things the way I did. Sometimes she helped me clarify a point, other times, I was able to better explain our process. Since we both share the strength of Communication, we were in a constant process of trying to both understand and be understood.

When we were done, I felt like we had a solid introductory post about how Strengthsfinder can increase employee engagement. All we needed was an image.

Using Pictures to Communicate Meaning

As you may have noticed, we always include a picture with each post to illustrate, in a subtle way, the overall idea of the post. For example, the picture above, (singer/songwriters Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds), is meant to convey the idea of how two people with similar talents (guitarists), yet vastly different approaches, styles and complementing strengths, can make something awesome.

For the post that Carrie and I were working on… I was stumped as to what image would work! As someone with Ideation, that rarely happens. I asked Carrie what she thought. Our exchange went something like this…

Me: “What picture illustrates ‘Employee Engagement?’”

Carrie: “People sitting around a conference table taking notes?”

Me: “No, that’s too corporate looking… not our style… it needs to be subtle… what about this?”

I sent her a picture of some commercial fisherman emptying fishing nets on a boat.

Carrie: “I don’t get it?”

Me: “Well, they look really engaged in what they’re doing…”

Carrie: “I just think it looks like dinner…”

Me: “Good point… what about something with cooks in a kitchen?”

Again, using my Ideation, I sent her several different pictures of chefs preparing and cooking food in a large kitchen. After the fourth or fifth one she asked, “What are you trying to communicate here with this picture?

Excellent question!

Sometimes, my Ideation takes over and I end up way out in left field with an idea only tangentially related to the original one. It’s almost like Ideation temporarily hijacks Communication.

Carrie, using her strengths of Learner, Input, and Communication, was able to pull our brainstorming process back by asking a simple question. She was trying to Learn what I was doing (Learner), so that she could help us (Responsibility) best communicate our message (Communication).

I said, “I’m basically looking for a picture of people doing something where their life literally depends on them being engaged…they can’t help but be engaged. If they’re not, either something bad will happen, or they won’t have a job anymore.

Her reply, “Ok…” and then I it was a few minutes before I heard from her.

“How about this?”

She sent me the brilliant picture of five window washers on a huge skyscraper.

“Yes! That’s it!” I said.

How same Strengths are Similar, Yet Different

Because Carrie and I share the strength of Communication, it was important for us to find a picture that accurately communicated the message we were trying to convey. People with communication hate being misunderstood.

At first, I felt misunderstood by Carrie.

“Why can’t you just tell me my pictures are awesome! They make sense in my head, why not yours?”

How often does our application of our strengths only make sense to use?

Carrie had taken some small ownership in this project (Responsibility) and started using a combination of her strengths to help me use mine. She didn’t have to think about it, she just did it.

Her Communication strength helped my Communication strength get unstuck. Clearly articulating a message is one of the talents in the theme of Communication. Sometimes people with communication get in a bad cycle by either over communicating or under communicating, if what they have expressed is clear in their own head.

Aleasha wrote about the dark side of strengths. This is the dark side of my Communication strength. Without external feedback, I assume my narrative makes perfect sense to others. Usually Communication adapts their message to others. Sometimes, they need help.

Moving Forward

I learned a valuable lesson, not only about my own strengths, but about how I can partner with a team member to help my strengths become ever more refined. When you work with someone who shares your strengths, it can be easy to assume they think like you do. Finding what is different can make both of you even stronger. You don’t always need to find different strengths from your own. You just need to be willing to listen to the feedback from those you trust.