What’s the opposite of a strength?

close up of a key hanging on a nail that's been hammered into a wall.
Photo by Sergij on Pexels.com

Half a lifetime ago, I had a conversation with someone about suggestibility. We did a totally unscientific sociology experiment (which are always a great source of entertainment). When someone came into the room we were in, my friend asked them what their astrological sign was, and said he’d read their horoscope. They told him, and he read a completely different one. If they were Horoscope Believers, they found a way to make whatever my friend said totally fit their day. If they weren’t Horoscope Believers, it wouldn’t have mattered either way, and they mostly just shrugged it off.

I was thinking about that this week. Last week, my team at work did some training on a communications model called PCM (Process Communication Model). You fill out a survey, it gets ground through the gears of some algorithm and eventually get a report. You use the report during the training, and I suppose the point of the (not inexpensive) training is for you to use your knowledge about your results to help you communicate effectively with others. I usually love these kinds of exercises. I dutifully took Myers-Briggs, DiSC, and True Colors. While I never feel like I read the resulting reports and sigh contentedly and think, “[algorithm], you *get* me.” And I quite like doing surveys – regardless of the ridiculous thing it’s going to tell me – What type of breakfast cereal am I? What are my deepest desires based on my underpants colour? Who was I in my past lives? What type of fingernail am I based on my birth month (and what does that even mean??)

Usually it’s a fun lark. I like them for the entertainment value – you mean that if I wear beige granny-panties I need to find a little ambition, and if I wear a leopard print g-string I should be a CEO of a mutual fund company? You know, because that’s the criteria on the headhunter’s checklist*. Seems legit. *snerk*

*Note: If you’re a head hunter, please don’t make employment contingent on seeing someone’s gotchies. If you’re a job-seeker, please don’t show your knickers to anyone who makes that seem like criteria for a job. Uh, unless your applying to be an underpants model, I guess.

But I digress…

For the more serious, maybe-based-in-some-actual-psychology methods of profiling (not that these kinds of things are about profiling or labelling us, because they’re totally not), there’s sometimes a truth or two to tuck into my toolbox. Mostly, though, I use those labels to understand that I need to lead a conversation with some social niceties if I’m working with some people, but I can just cut to the drummer task at hand with others. It’s never a bad thing to be a better communicator. Loads of people are terrible at it. But what if it’s just that they’re terrible at communicating with you, or you, them?

Well, that certainly deserves some thinkythought cycles, right?

So back to the training last week, then. The more I considered it, this PCM training did not seem to reflect me at all. The things it said I struggle with (humour, charm) are my wheelhouse. The things it says are my strengths are things that I feel I am entirely average. I understand that it’s sometimes hard to shine a light at yourself (especially if I wish I had more charm or humour), but I asked some peers what they thought my “type” was, and when I told them what I was (and what I scored lowest), they didn’t see it either.

It really did feel waa-aaaaay off. And someone in the session mentioned that these kinds of surveys usually depend on how tired and stressed and distracted you are, so you might get a different result if you did it again a few days later. But no. The woman facilitating the course said “Nope, it doesn’t matter. This is the *real* you, regardless”. First of all, that can’t possibly be true. So the rest of the training, I treated it like something akin to Astrology.

To be fair, there were a few bullet points in my base type description that the report served up that did fit me, but I think that if I tried hard enough, there were a few bullet points in *every* base type description that would fit me. And if the point is to figure out how a type undermines themselves or how to catch yourself when you’re about to go off the rails, then having a broad knowledge seems… prudent.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about the consequences of trying so hard to fit yourself into a Profile Shaped Box. When I said that I didn’t think the results of this training felt right to me, another participant (in a virtual break out room) said “Well, not everyone can be the *cool* type”.

Wait what?

I took that to mean that she had bought into the system (if she felt represented by her results from the system, that’s respectable), and she had also further filtered the 6 types into desirable types and notsomuch desirable types. She thought the one I felt like I fit better was a desirable one, and the one I found myself in was not. And she was projecting that onto me. I don’t think of one as better or worse than another. I just think of them as more or less like me. And don’t get me wrong, some people are truly delusional about themselves. We can all think of at least one stellar example in our lives, I’m sure.

The whole experience got me thinking about growth models and goals. The Process Communication Model is not a growth model. You don’t window shop for a goal profile and then model behaviour until you get there. Sure, there are personality traits that YOU like more than others – the one’s that make you look at someone and say, “I wish I could [speak to a group / manage a project / troubleshoot software gremlins / comfort a friend / throw an ax / tell a story / wear red / do a thing] like that person does.” There are communication methods that seem easier than others. But not all personality traits are compatible, and not all communication methods are feasible, which comes as a surprise to no one. There seems to be a cultural value that’s placed on some traits, and a stigma that’s attached to others. If I don’t have a particular strength, does that mean I have a weakness? Is the opposite of having a strength having a different strength? I think it’s the latter. Because being an Alpha might be good if you’re the Wolf of Bay Street, but maybe notsomuch if you’re trying to put socks on a toddler. There’s value in both of those skills sets. If the point of these surveys and training sessions in communications models is to help you identify the traits and skills you have so that you can use them to the benefit of your team, that’s perfect.

So, work to your strengths, friends. The magic is knowing where there’s a need-shaped lock that requires your skill-shaped key. Find that lock.

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