Human Strengths: Differences That Bring Us Together

{Cantwell, 2008. In Lopez (Ed.), Positive Psychology: Exploring the Best in People. Volume 1 Discovering Human Strengths.}

Discovering and Capitalizing on Your Strengths: Personal Mini-Experiments

Learn more about your strengths and share them with family, friends, and colleagues.

Discovering Your Strengths: In about 30 minutes, you can identify your signature personal strengths by completing one of the inventories:

Clifton StrengthsFinder (,


Strengths Profile (

We encourage you to take the inventory, print your strengths report, and share the results with people close to you.

Gaining Awareness of Your Strengths: Prepare for yourself a “Top 5 Signature Strengths Certificate”, frame it, and place it on your desk or outside of your office door. It will serve as a “talking point” for those you interact with daily and allow you to gain awareness of your particular five strengths identified by the inventory. Often those closest to us have a different perspective on what we are good at, and their feedback can be helpful.

Claiming and Confirming Your Strengths: To receive feedback from those close to you, add your five signature strengths underneath your name before you send your emails. In addition, invite confirmation from others who may have witnessed your particular behaviors, attitudes, and ways of interacting but didn’t know what to call them. You have now given them five words, namely your signature strengths.

Implementing strengths-based teaching

A strengths-based approach can increase students’ intrinsic motivation and academic engagement, resulting in deep learning of course content and performance skills. Students can learn how to use their strengths to produce deep understanding by stimulating their intrinsic motivation and reinforcing their academic engagement.

The strengths-based approach to education has five major components, namely:

Help students identify their strengths and affirm those strengths as qualities worthy of investment in time and energy;

Train students to employ their strengths to increase their learning and academic performance;

Involve professors to disclose their strengths and talents and how they use their strengths in the various aspects of curriculum planning and in-class instruction;

Involve professors to interact with students based on their strengths, affirming students when they are using their strengths, and encouraging students to complete academic tasks by applying their strengths and talents;

Encourage all class members to provide feedback to one another by pointing out when they see each other being at their best and then noting which of their strengths were at work. In doing so, peers affirm each other as they use and develop their strengths.

Capitalizing on strengths results in higher motivation, greater engagement in the task at hand, personal satisfaction, productivity, and higher performance in objective exams and content-related skills.

As students become more aware of their strengths, they experience increased confidence and hope. When individuals experience increased confidence, they experience more pleasure. Hope and confidence are both internally pleasurable experiences. Intrinsic motivation stems from and is based on pleasant internal experiences. As students experience more joy in the form of increased confidence and hope through becoming aware of and employing their strengths, they become intrinsically motivated and reinforced by the positive experience of their hope and confidence. Finally, intrinsic motivation increases as a result of experiencing success. It is simply more pleasurable to succeed than to fail. As students are provided with means of increasing their learning effectiveness by applying their strengths, students experience more success. With successful experiences come the intrinsically motivating experience of pleasure resulting from achieving and being successful.

Differences (distinctive and unique aspects) are identified by strengths inventories and assessments reflected in our habits, behaviors, attitudes, beliefs that lead to greater efficiency, unique ways of processing information, interacting with people, and seeing the world. The common language of individual top-five strengths provides a base for discussions, bridges seeming differences, and positively sparks students’ academic engagement.

Growing based on Differences

The research question concerning student learning and teaching methodology studied in this article is this:

What is the effect on student learning of focusing on students’ unique strengths or differences and managing their weaknesses (or, as put by Coffman & Gonzalez-Molina (2002), “trying to bring out what God left in, instead of trying to put in what God left out”)?

The answer is this: Students do not learn best when you (the teacher) focus on what they have done wrong and instruct them on what they need to do to improve.

Students learn best when you (the teacher) focus on their strengths, how they have applied their strengths to perform well, and how they could further use their strengths to increase performance.

The Strengths-Based Approach to Teaching

First, identify and affirm the strengths and talents of each student by administering a strengths assessment; have students complete pretests for academic engagement, content knowledge, and content-related skills.

Second, encourage and reinforce the student cohort to develop and intentionally apply their strengths and talents in learning and performance activities; show how students can use their strengths to learn and improve their performance. The process of encouraging students to develop and apply their strengths and talents in learning and performing involved four 50-minute class sessions in which the students

shared their five strengths identified through the online assessment;

selected at least one strength that they would intentionally use while reading a chapter in their course textbook;

identified at least one strength that they would intentionally use when studying for an examination; and

were encouraged to use their strengths more deliberately and consistently as they learned and performed in the course class.

Third, ongoing interaction, collectively and individually, between the teacher and the class. Feedback on learning, examinations, and performance activities is focused on what the students did best and what strengths caused their performance to be high in those areas. Students are then encouraged to apply their strengths more intentionally to increase performance.

Start the semester by finding out who the students are rather than who they are not, recognizing that each person has strengths and talents that enable them to do certain things very well.

In performance activities, call attention to how each student performed best. Then, help the students understand how their specific strengths and talents enabled them to perform highly in that particular aspect of the activity. Then, encourage the students to think of ways to use their specific strengths to improve their activity performance.

The Foundation of Strengths-Based Education

The strengths-based approach represents a philosophy of living that involves perceptions, attitudes, self-expectations, aspirations, approaches to learning, efforts to influence, and modes of relating. Strengths are measured, and students are provided with the results to encourage awareness of their potentials. The strengths and definitions provide a unique opportunity or individualization that allows students to make personalized academic choices and set personal goals based on their strengths. Educators can assist students in attaining their goals and provide feedback.

The StrengthsFinder Assessment

Selecting an assessment instrument should be based on validity and the context in which one will use it.

Educators can use the StrengthsFinder instrument in educational environments to identify the talents students bring into the learning environment they can capitalize on to achieve academic success, personal growth, and development.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder is based on research to ascertain individuals’ natural behavior patterns, thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and motivations. Responses are sorted and presented to the individual through dominant patterns of themes or talent.


People exceptionally talented in the theme:

Achiever; have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.

Activator; can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

Adaptability; prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.

Analytical; search for reasons and causes. They can think about all the factors that might affect a situation.

Arranger; can organize, but they also have the flexibility that complements this ability. They like figuring out how to arrange all the pieces and resources for maximum productivity.

Belief; have certain unchanging core values. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their life.

Command; have presence. They can take control of a situation and make decisions.

Communication; generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

Competition; measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.

Connectedness; have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.

Consistency; are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. So they try to treat everyone in the world with consistency by setting up clear rules and adhering to them.

Context; enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.

Deliberative; are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate the obstacles.

Developer; recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each slight improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.

Discipline; enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create.

Empathy; can sense other people’s feelings by imagining themselves in others’ lives or situations.

Focus; can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act.

Futuristic; are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.

Harmony; look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; instead, they seek areas of agreement.

Ideation; are fascinated by ideas. They can find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

Includer; are accepting of others. They show awareness of those who feel left out and make an effort to include them.

Individualization; are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how different people can work together productively.

Input; have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

Intellection; are characterized by intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

Learner; have a great desire to learn and want to improve continuously. In particular, the learning process, rather than the outcome, excites them.

Maximizer; focus on strengths to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something exceptionally talented into something superb.

Positivity; have a contagious enthusiasm. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they will do.

Relator; enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.

Responsibility; take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.

Restorative; are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.

Self-Assurance; feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are correct.

Significance; want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent and want to be recognized.

Strategic; create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

Woo; love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and connecting with another person.

Strengths and Self-Authorship

When students learn about their strengths, they are given a new language and the confidence to begin writing their life stories, making sense of their past successes and challenges. Students moving toward self-authorship embrace substantive and transformative learning goals deeply. Self-authorship involves self-initiating, self-correcting, and self-evaluating rather than depending on others to frame the problems, initiate the adjustments, or determine whether things are going acceptably well.

Applying the Areas of Greatest Talent to New or Challenging Situations

A strengths assessment such as the StrengthsFinder provides a common language to talk about strengths, validate and affirm our experiences, and provide talking points for conversation. In addition, it gives the ability to identify one another’s natural way of processing information, interacting with people, and seeing the world.

For example, learning that a student’s signature strength is competition, the educator is encouraged to find ways to help the student to learn, develop, and apply his or her strength of competition in new and challenging situations, thus thinking about and acting upon the interest and needs of each student while systematically making efforts to personalize the learning experience. In addition, as the student applies his or her areas of greatest talent to another new or challenging situation, giving immediate feedback on progress becomes another driver for positive growth.

The 10 Talent Themes of the Clifton Youth StrengthsExplorer

Achieving talents like to accomplish things and have a great deal of energy.

Caring talents enjoy helping others.

Competing talents enjoy measuring their performance against others and greatly desire to win.

Confidence talents believe in themselves and their ability to be successful in their endeavors.

Dependability talents keep their promises and show a high level of responsibility.

Discoverer talents are curious and like to ask “Why?” and “How?”

Future Thinker talents think about what’s possible beyond the present time, even beyond their lifetime.

Organizer talents are good at scheduling, planning, and organizing.

Presence talents like to tell stories and be at the center of attention.

Relating talents are good at establishing meaningful friendships and maintaining them.


{The concept of strengths is a metaphor pointing to the positive qualities that help us survive and thrive. We could differentiate between character, competence, positive capacities, ethical and moral principles and convictions, and positive connections as dimensions or facets of strengths. An additional strength could be psychological flexibility or adaptability; this is a resource and an outcome of our coaching endeavor. Aspects of temperamental endowment can be strengths when shaped and used with intention and purpose.}