Strengths Coaching

{Biswas-Diener & Dean, 2007. Positive Psychology Coaching: Putting the Science of Happiness to Work for Your Clients.} 

Background to Strengths  

Consider a pilot program where low-achieving eighth-graders were recruited to mentor smaller children, namely the incoming first graders, with immediate effects on their learning as they felt more engaged, capable, and hopeful. Their previous deficit was now their chief strength. 

Tapping an individual’s talents and resources; applying their personal, social, or financial assets to problems at work; and enlisting these assets in pursuing dreams, goals, and aspirations are experienced as fun and rewarding.

Strength coaching provides a systematic way to look for, identify, and apply strengths to build on the client’s resources, fostering their character strengths, increasing happiness, and protecting against stress and sadness. A simple intervention is to apply a strength to a new life area and experience firsthand the triumph of personal virtues over the troubles that invariably plague human existence.

Hearing stories of character and virtue is elating. These stories move us since we glimpse ourselves at our best. Many classic tales and myths appeal to us because they hinge on the kind of inner strength available to all of us. They rely on common personal attributes such as loyalty, wisdom, and bravery that we frequently see exhibited in those around us. They motivate and remind us of what is possible for each of us.

Research suggests that capitalizing on strengths is a more fruitful route to success than attempting to shore up weaknesses, indicating more benefits from interventions aimed at and utilizing strength. Building on strengths is more effective than trying to improve weaknesses.

Positive psychology coaching involves using a formal framework of strengths that provides a systematic understanding and program for fostering character strengths and inner abundance. What constitutes a strength, and how might one distinguish between a skill, a talent, and a strength? The Values in Action (VIA) classification system distinguishes between these resources based on seven explicit criteria, which include that strengths are manifest in a range of individual thoughts, actions, or feelings; strengths contribute to the good life for the self or others; strengths are morally valued in their own right in addition to the desired outcomes they produce; the display of strength by an individual does not diminish other people in the vicinity, but rather elevates them; societies provide institutions and rituals for cultivating strengths; there are consensually recognized virtuous individuals who seem to embody these desirable traits; strength cannot be decomposed into other strengths (e.g., tolerance is a blend of fairness and open-mindedness).

For example, courage is the ability to face fears, overcome doubts, and act even in uncertainty. It is widely valued in its own right, elevates those who witness it, contributes to the good life, and is easy to identify examples of courageous people.

In strength work, we hear about what you are good at, focus on your strong points, discuss your resources, and expand your resource toolbox. Strength work is non-threatening, productive, fun, and energizing.

The coach must create a safe environment where strengths can be discussed. Not everyone is equally comfortable talking about personal strengths. It may help to start the conversation by saying, “I know it may feel strange like you are bragging, but I assure you I will not take it that way. I am genuinely interested in what you do well.”

When we cultivate our talents and utilize our strengths in our relationships and work, we often inspire those around us. People experience elevation and awe when in the presence of exceptional virtue, inspiring optimism and prosocial behaviors, allowing us to see what is possible and inspiring us to action.

Assessing Your Clients’ Strengths 

Coaches listen carefully for clients’ strengths, talents, and resources and encourage clients to use these to pursue their goals. Formal assessments solicit information from clients more effectively than a coach can in a session. One such assessment is the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS). The VIA-IS produces only positive feedback, listing strengths clients “own” rather than ones they need to develop; it does not rank people by overall percentile but rather identifies “signature strengths” effectively; it is useful in identifying those virtues the client might be overlooking.

Discussing the results of the measure is often a catalyst for client growth and change. Applying signature strengths that resonate with the client to the current coaching agenda boosts the client’s wellbeing and success in various life domains.

Strengths Interventions

The VIA identifies the top five signature strengths, yet strengths rarely are used in isolation. A courageous person, for example, might also be curious and creative, and this particular constellation of strengths looks different from courage combined with leadership and zest. There is wisdom in encouraging your clients to build multiple strengths rather than focusing on a single strength, ensuring their strengths are developed to their full potential.

Identifying and developing strengths is half the picture; ultimately, your clients must be able to use their strengths effectively. Practical wisdom is necessary to discern how and when it is best to use your strengths, which strength is called for, and how best to put it into play. For optimal use, relevance, conflict, and specificity become important. It makes sense to determine what bearing a strength may or may not have on a situation, how different strengths might conflict with one another, and how they might be tailored to the specific situation. Asking your clients about times when using their strengths paid off and those that backfired is a great way of reminding them of their accumulated wisdom. 

Fostering Curiosity

Curiosity often accompanies novel, complex, ambiguous, varied, and surprising tasks. Help the client craft activities and situations that incorporate these qualities to offer the best possible chance to increase the clients’ innate curiosity, as well as their playfulness, empathy, and other strengths. Offer a new angle, and ask them if they would be willing to “play” a little. If they permit the intervention, ask them to approach the situation or problem from the point of view of another participant. Take time and have them flesh out this point of view by asking them to describe specific details, emotions, or desires. Ask the client to discuss the approach to the problem they might have taken when they were 20. Ask them to imagine negotiating the situation as if they worked for a competitor. In each case, create a playful atmosphere and encourage the client to wonder, “what if?” 

Seek Opportunities for Humor

Humor puts us in a good mood with positive effects on health and wellbeing. Find more ways to incorporate humor into your daily life. Find small ways to put fun and laughter into mundane daily activities.

Working With Your Strengths

Coaches endorse that clients have many resources to draw on to overcome problems and grow. Coaching entails connecting clients with their resources and helping them decide how best to wield these assets in their pursuit of success.

Like our clients, we coaches need to grow, prosper, and work toward our goals, such as being better coaches, more savvy business people, and more authentic humans. Therein lies a great potential for personal growth and professional development for coaches to identify and access their character resources. Coaches can take a personal inventory of what they have to offer their clients uniquely, access their strengths, and use them in authentic ways in their practice. Feedback and peer support are great external resources and ongoing supervision to serve our optimal performance with clients.

The VIA reinforces and extends the implicit notions of our character resources by giving us clearly articulated and scientifically validated feedback. It might make a crucial yet subtle difference if we relish those virtues that are second nature to us and employ them in our sessions. Coaching is a partnership and a relationship, and it behooves professionals to take the time to consider what they bring to the endeavor. Owning up to our strengths, embracing and relishing our best qualities, and acknowledging our virtues make us happier. Sharing our strengths with others inspires and uplifts them. We create an environment where strengths are openly discussed, celebrating our best parts without coming across as arrogant.

One example is using a “strengths introduction” that requires us to label our virtues or tell a story from our lives that illustrates a time when we were at our best. These exercises are liberating and uplifting; people feel good about themselves and are inspired by others as they participate. They also clearly illustrate the great things our clients are capable of.

It is good practice for the coach as a professional to reflect systematically on client strengths to maintain empathy and continue to offer their best services. For each client, we list the things we like about her – virtues and admirable qualities. We spend a couple of minutes before each session reviewing this list and reminding ourselves what is so great about our client and why we enjoy working with her. Meditating on these strengths allows us to reframe negative judgments positively and draws our attention to the fact that people are never all bad, completely immoral, confused, or misguided.

Action Steps for PPCs: Working with Strengths

Consider how you have previously worked with strengths. How have you identified client strengths or encouraged them to use their strengths?

What have you learned here, and how might it affect your work in this area?

When and how might you incorporate formal assessments, such as VIA-IS?

Consider the tenor of your coaching sessions and the overall environment of your coaching.

How does this setting promote or inhibit the free discussion of strengths?

What might you do to create an environment where talking about strengths is natural and acceptable?

Coaching to Personal Strengths

Coaching entails harnessing the power of client strengths and tapping their resources to achieve personal and professional goals. This involves identifying and developing assets, asking clients about what they do best, and encouraging them to do more of that, employing what they have already available.

The values in action classification of strengths provide a new taxonomy, a conceptual framework for thinking about and working with strengths, and a way to quantify and identify our greatest personal assets. Strengths cluster together thematically and are used in many distinct life domains.

One distinction would be the dimensions of intrapersonal and interpersonal. Intrapersonal strengths are hidden personal resources that we can draw on in various situations. Optimal use is the key to effectiveness; for example, curiosity is linked with various desirable psychological outcomes. However, too much curiosity in a newly established relationship may be perceived as intrusive and thus become a problem. Interpersonal strengths help us work effectively in families, groups, and teams.

Intrapersonal Strengths

Intrapersonal strengths are often hidden and not always visible through behavior. Many personal strengths exist at the level of thought and feeling rather than action. They might lead to action over time but are not always recognizable at the moment.

Resilience is a perfect example of an individual strength whose primary working mechanisms are tucked safely inside. Making sense of and overcoming the pain of suffering from a tragedy is usually private and inaccessible to the outside observer. The experience of bouncing back from hardship is often cloudy, even for the person who endured the hardship.

Time Orientation

Cognitive strengths are not limited to thinking-related assets, such as intelligence, memory, or attention; they also include a good sense of direction and easy orientation to the world around us or a good sense of time. “Being present in the moment” or “dreaming about the future” are skills related to a personal sense of time. For example, anticipating the future is difficult for children since they mainly exist in the moment in a stream of present-oriented action. Any reminder that it is “time for bed!” is a reminder that disappointing changes are coming shortly. As children mature, they develop a future sense, a terrific ability at the heart of planning and perseverance. The ability to control present-moment hedonism is related to understanding future consequences, which plays a powerful role in our daily functioning. The classic delay of gratification task demonstrates how kids behave and struggle when given a choice between eating one cookie now or waiting until later when they will be rewarded with two cookies.

Tempo and pace of life are other aspects related to the sense of time, largely influenced by the place and culture one is living in. A study of the effects of rushing on health reveals that a slower pace of life is better for your heart. Waiting time is studied by timing people for how long they will wait for a colleague to show up before they call it quits. It seems that three time units are a generally accepted duration for waiting; people in the US unconsciously think of 5 minutes as a unit of time, and many are willing to wait up to three units, or 15 minutes, while in Middle Eastern culture, folks also wait three time units, but in this case that translates to 45 minutes.

Time perspective, studied by Philip Zimbardo, is the amount of time a person spends living in the past, present, or future.

Past-oriented folks typically focus on their cultural traditions, family histories, and personal life narrative. They have a tendency toward nostalgia, and their memories can bring a sense of joy and of having lived a worthwhile life if they also have a tendency to focus on positive events. Some dwell on the negatives, the “past-negatives” rather than the “past-positives.” Change is often intimidating for this group, and they can be closed-minded and ruminating.

Present-oriented individuals can be present-hedonists, pleasure-seekers who value high-intensity activities, engaged in the present moment so much that they seem unaware of the future; they are often fun but tend to act without regard for future consequences. Present-oriented individuals can also be present-fatalists, the people who live in the now but believe that the events of their lives are outside the bounds of personal control, swept up in the current life; their time orientation often leaves present-fatalists feeling anxious and depressed.

Future-oriented people are goal-seeking planners, always planning for the future and anticipating good or bad events down the road; they naturally conduct cost-benefit analyses, delay gratification, and create contingency plans. They tend to be successful and driven, yet too much future orientation leaves folks emotionally unavailable and causes them to overlook or lose enjoyment in the present moment.

Balanced time orientation is crucial to psychological health. Looking back on the good times, appreciating the present, and planning for the future impact success at home and work and also happiness and wellbeing. Time-competent individuals with a balanced perspective have high achievement, self-control, and optimism as they harness positive strengths related to the past, present, and future. They savor their past experiences effectively, enjoy their engagement in the present, and maintain hope for the future leading to high life satisfaction, happiness, and optimal functioning.

Personal Query: How balanced is your time orientation? How much time do you spend in the present moment versus walking down memory lane or planning for the future? How does your particular balance help or hinder you?


The ability to savor can be learned, and your clients will live a rosier life by understanding this strength better. It is possible to savor past experiences by recalling them positively, enjoying present activities as they happen, and planning to savor golden future moments by anticipating them. “Enjoy, Recall, Anticipate.” Make life a bit better, and look for opportunities to savor your experiences. Stay for a moment in the satisfaction of completing a task on your to-do list before jumping on to the next one, enjoy the achievement, and the success, reminisce the connections you made while doing the task, and savor the interactions that resulted in a moment of sharing and connection.

Savoring is more than a hedonistic feeling good; it is functional and prolongs enjoyable moments. By savoring an experience, such as a short joyful spark when you gave a well-received talk or presentation, replaying it in your head later in the day, or picturing it at the following week’s board meeting, you can stretch the moment out across days, weeks, and years. This act is like a vaccination that protects you psychologically over a long period. “Prolong enjoyable moments; stretch the moment out.” Turn up the volume on positivity, intensify positive feelings, and bask in an enjoyable experience. Positivity leads to a variety of health, social, and work-related benefits. Celebrate and share the positive moment, and celebrate success. Celebrate through sharing a savoring moment. If you wish, use imagery to celebrate your success, imagine a party to celebrate your success, and imagine being blessed and cherished.

Look out for various flavors and shades of savoring. Focus savoring on external experiences, such as interactions with others or internal accomplishments. Find the positive and focus your attention on that.

Gratitude and basking are essentially different sides of the same savoring coin. Savoring focused on the past is a kind of positive reminiscence that involves calling up good times and personal successes from long ago. This contrasts with dwelling on the past, personal failures, hardships, and losses, which affect your wellbeing negatively. Worries about an upcoming activity are lessened by helping a client find confidence through guided imagery or having them recount a story about a time when they were successful. Clients can feel restored and excited about challenges by savoring the past and concentrating on the details of the experience. There are several types of savoring and many ways to engage in this activity. If one intervention doesn’t work, keep trying others.

One crucial way to guarantee effective savoring of the past is to build memories in the present. When a feel-good success comes your way, take the time to appreciate it in the moment, and store it away for future use; take in the good. By replaying the event or paying close attention to the details, it will be easier to recall later. Share the positive experience with others, make a story out of the events, create a narrative, find a metaphor or image for easy recall. Sharing experiences is an interesting one since, later on, your friends or close ones may initiate the savoring process for you, as you may initiate the savoring for them in their stories. Consider assigning a client homework to solicit such a story from a friend or colleague.

Another savoring strategy is to limit distractions. Savoring is best done in certain settings, and some environments interfere with effective savoring. Create a space for savoring, one free of noise and other distractions. Counter habituation to the good and the pleasant. Pay careful attention even to familiar surroundings. Wake up to the world. Take time out and be open to new ways of looking at the world.

Appreciating the Present

People naturally adapt and habituate. Activities designed to approach one’s life outside of habit entail simple ways of introducing a novel perspective. Learning to appreciate the common items of our lives stimulates creativity and engagement. Learning to appreciate life in the present sets the stage for positive reminiscence about the past. The better one gets at savoring the moment; the better one will be at storing the memories and accessing them later on. Choose an everyday object to take photos of, take snapshots from unusual angles and view the object in a new way.

Awe is an interesting feeling with powerful after-effects. We feel awe in the presence of greatness. People experience a sense of moral elevation when exposed to the greatness that inspires them. Typically, these acts have a positive moral character, such as acts of kindness, forgiveness, loyalty, or courage. Beauty elicits this response as well. People who experience awe often feel renewed motivation to improve themselves and the world around them. Witnessing an act of kindness encourages us to emulate the act and work to make ourselves better. We can act ” awesome ” to encourage our clients to take positive action.

Social comparison gauges personal success by evaluating the success of those around you. Upward comparison occurs when we contrast ourselves with someone in a superior position and then commonly feel bad about ourselves. Positive psychology points to another view on social comparison. It shows that sometimes people use upward comparison as inspiration and motivation. For example, rather than feeling bad when comparing themselves to cancer patients in remission, many women in a study felt encouraged by their peers’ success.

When clients notice that others around them have enjoyed more success, you can use it as an opportunity for inspiration. Ask your clients about times when the success of others has moved and motivated them. Study the actions and qualities of successful people as a wellspring of ideas.


There is implicit optimism when a prospective client contacts a coach. The message may be unspoken, yet it is clear that there is hope that the coaching will work for the better. The coach has to use encouragement to rekindle the fires of optimism if it is not already in full effect. Optimism can be learned, and it is beneficial to learn optimism. The sequence of coaching outcomes can start with optimism and hope leading to motivation, perseverance, and success. Optimism lies at the heart of motivation, perseverance, and success. People’s willingness to take risks, create new ideas, or make changes rests on a sense that everything will turn out all right in the future.

The ability to persevere at a task, even in the face of doubt or hardship, is predicated on commitment and confidence. Commitment says, “I am committed to doing the work required to succeed.” Confidence says, “I am able now, and I will be able in the future to do the work required and to succeed.”

Self-confidence and optimism are intimately related to one another. High self-esteem suggests a future-oriented mindset wherein you believe you will be capable down the road as well.

Snyder’s cognitive theory of hope emphasizes the importance of personal agency, the capacity to reach your goals, as an integral part of optimism. The more people feel capable of success, the more they will cling to a sense of hope. Effective coaches work with clients to take stock of personal resources, build self-confidence, and encourage them to believe that success is possible. Coaching is about instilling a sense of optimism, a critical component of perseverance. “I can persevere at a task because I commit and I confide.”

Optimism is about having a favorable attitude toward the future, having a favorable attitude toward yourself, and believing that you can and will be successful.

Building optimism can come in many ways; a little encouragement from someone trusted, a reminder about past success, reframing the anxiety of anticipation as excitement over the possibility of success, or a shift in explanatory style. A pessimistic explanatory style is a mental habit of taking the blame for bad events and chalking the good ones up to dumb luck. The thinking goes, “I am the cause of these bad events; This bad event will last; This bad event will penetrate my whole life.” Whereas for good events, the pessimistic thinking goes, “I am not in the cause of good events; This good event will pass; This good event is local and isolated.” Dispositional optimists, on the other hand, are likely to explain good events as personal and inevitable, with lasting and pervasive effects, and bad ones as impersonal, temporary, and with local effects.

Explanatory styles can be changed; they are a matter of choice. Explanatory style is influenced by genetic makeup, and some are born with a rosier outlook than others; also, caregivers and the environment we grow up in influence how we perceive and interpret the world. Parents modeling upbeat or downcast ways of interpreting the world is an influence. Perceptions of the environment as hostile, uncertain, or unsafe increase the risk of pessimism, as does trauma and violence.

Some change is possible through good modeling, and clients who surround themselves with optimistic people have a better chance of learning the skill. Feedback to the client about overt pessimism and using self-deprecating language raises self-awareness. Praise and encouragement, labeling the client’s good qualities, asking the client to tell a story about past success, assigning homework related to paying attention to other people’s explanatory style, openly praising, celebrating personal achievement, and speaking authentically about strengths all become tools to promote optimism.

It is also important to know when optimism is inappropriate and when it is time to give up instead of continuing to work halfheartedly. Taking note of the lack of progress and effort without effect are signs to reconsider and evaluate one’s situation. The mind can trap itself in interesting ways; giving up on a goal is not an option, so I reduce the effort I put into the goal, and since I am not quitting, I am also not failing. This trap creates a perpetual cycle of wasted effort and lack of progress, akin to the sunk cost trap of an investment identified by behavioral finance.

A solution to the dilemma is to distinguish between “giving up effort” and “giving up commitment.” Scaling back on effort is short-sighted and ultimately destructive. Goals are important motivational targets and the source of much meaning and purpose in our lives, and halfhearted effort makes no sense within this context. Instead, one could focus on giving up commitment and reframing the change, focusing on replacing, rather than giving up the goal, redirecting the same energy into other valuable goals, or developing a new goal worthy of effort. This distinction should help reduce ambivalence about client goals. Scaling back on effort instead of giving up a goal completely is a strategy that rarely leads to success. It is more fruitful to replace the old goal with one worthy of full effort.

Optimize your future story.

Each of us exists in a timeline, and how we relate to the past, present, and future has important consequences on our life quality. The happiest, most successful people reminisce positively about the past, savor the present, and are optimistic about the future.

Action Steps for PPCs: Coaching to Personal Strengths

Pay attention to your client’s language use, and attempt to determine her time orientation.

Coaching is mainly future-focused, and it is useful to remind yourself and your client to enjoy the present and harness positive experiences she has had in the past.

Savoring is a great place to try fun, experiential interventions. Encourage clients to pursue enjoyable activities, and use savoring to plumb them for all they are worth. Brainstorm ideas with them to break old habits and add novelty to the daily routine. Savoring and appreciation will naturally follow.

Consider harnessing the motivational power of awe. Collect powerful short anecdotes to share in sessions or solicit them from clients. Create an environment where the excellence of others becomes a point for inspiration rather than competition.

Think of times friends and mentors have believed in you and complimented you. Remember how praise translated to increased self-confidence and greater feelings of agency and optimism. How can you pass this gift along?

Take time and think about both persevering and giving up.

How do we know when we ought to continue striving?

How do our personal resources factor into this decision?

When is it wise to throw in the towel?

How can you work with your clients to reframe giving up goals as replacing goals?

How can you work with your clients around the idea of scaling back effort versus scaling back commitment?

Coaching to Social Strengths

In an environment rich in natural resources, survival is a matter of industriousness; thriving, on the other hand, is a matter of connection. Stories of social isolation resulting from being stranded on an island rest on a single pivotal plot point; rescue and being reunited with the rest of humanity. Castaway’s stories highlight the social nature of being human.

Personal strengths are experienced inside you and are ready to be used even if you are alone. These are the ones that would help you if you were stranded on some remote island; your perseverance, optimism, and creativity. There are a set of strengths that are best employed in a social setting; your leadership skills, social intelligence, and fairness, for example.

We are often at our best when we are in social situations. Much of what we think and do revolves around other people. Many of our greatest joys are the products of being in relationships that have an enormous impact on our health and wellbeing.

Evolutionary psychology estimates that 150 people is the maximum that our brains can effectively deal with in any meaningful way. Relationships on the job are just as important as those off the clock. Effective teams are made up of people who get along with one another and can work together, despite personal differences. Workers value relationships highly, and the largest influence on work satisfaction is relationships with managers, followed by relationships with colleagues. Coaching clients around strengths to flourish socially has many benefits for them.

Your Client as a Social Animal

There is a contrast between our natural sense of connectedness and the cultural message of the merits of individualism. The advantages of group living and cooperation created culture with expectations and roles for each community member for the group to flourish. Admiration of the group is a powerful incentive to develop skills that benefit the community. Through the group process, culture provides scripts for acting alone and interacting with others.

Culture influences our interaction. It is a lens through which we view the world, and it affects our values, sense of identity, the degree to which we believe life is preordained or under personal control, how we relate with others, and even how we feel. Socialization takes years of imitating and mimicking the actions of those around us to learn appropriate behaviors and internalize cultural messages about our place in the world and what we should strive for.

Culture is socially acquired and provides scripts for appropriately thinking, feeling, and behaving. People learn cultural messages through interactions. Coaching is based on a social relationship. What culture would you like to establish in your coaching sessions with your clients? Is your coaching culture warm and supportive, fast-paced and challenging, playful and funny? Coaching is where the old social rules can be thrown out in favor of exciting, positive, growth-enhancing scripts; you can make up the rules for social interactions and tailor them, so they bring out the best in you and your clients.

The longer a person is exposed to another way of looking at the world, the more they adopt it. The more people surround themselves with visionary, optimistic high achievers, the more they follow this thinking. Mere exposure to a cultural message of success, positivity, and self-esteem raises one’s spirits and confidence.

Western culture promotes individualism, the view that people are independently functioning agents. Individuals are considered distinct from one another and taught to form independent opinions and follow personal dreams.

Recognizing and Valuing Social Strengths

Each time we act kindly, gratefully, or generously, we set the stage for others to follow in our footsteps. In a workplace where employees enjoy their jobs, an atmosphere of collaboration is created through kindness and enthusiasm. Interpersonal virtues create supportive learning environments and feed worker satisfaction.

Social strengths are visible and overt, accompanied by obvious skills. Great leaders are not necessarily famous for their quiet inside strengths but are mostly admired for their social actions. Remarkable achievements of social actors are praised with a focus on their leadership, kindness, and fairness rather than creativity, zest, or curiosity. We recognize the most obvious qualities in a person as revealed in their behaviors. Social strengths are often outwardly manifested in an obvious way through action. It is easy to see social strengths in action. People lead; they forgive; they act kindly.

We are moved by stories of the past that tap into universal experiences; sacrifice and perseverance, loyalty and leadership, of a leader’s ability to bring out the best in everyone. Social strengths promote the welfare of communities. Individual strengths are not enough to function well in society. Your client must also develop her social strengths to maximize her chances of flourishing. The coaching aims include recognizing her social strengths, identifying areas of natural ability she might want to develop, valuing her social strengths, and becoming motivated to increase those she has.

Coaching Social Strengths

Everyone has the potential to grow in interactions with others. Three top-ranked attributes are highly social: enabling others, being a team builder, and being socially adaptable. Good leaders are group-focused as well as mission-driven. Working with your clients to develop social skills and tap natural interpersonal talents to be more effective is possible.

Social roles are a set of norms that define how people are supposed to behave in a particular social situation. Work with your clients to examine their roles with bosses, coworkers, spouses, and friends. Are they expected to be cooperative, competitive, subservient, or innovative? How might they modify these roles to best employ their signature strengths, and what might the consequences of such a revision be? Do you think your clients have a self-interested view of their roles or an other-interested view? Shift your client’s focus to her impact on others by pointing out the social roles she plays and how this contributes to larger group efforts, whether they are related to family or work.

One model to consider when working with your clients to identify and label the roles they fill is the Belbin model, which identifies nine roles common to all work teams. Three of these nine roles are specifically social: the coordinator, the leader who helps people stay task-oriented; the team worker, a team player who listens well and works to solve conflict; and the resource investigator, networkers who are energetic and enthused by the possibility of new ideas. How can your client get the most out of these roles, and how can she best apply her unique social gifts to these roles?

Coaching Social Strengths with the VIA

The VIA is organized into related themes; for example, the courage theme subsumes the specific strengths of bravery, persistence, integrity, and vitality.

There are two types of social strengths: the relationship-building virtues “strengths of humanity” include love, kindness, and social intelligence; the community-building strengths “strengths of justice” include citizenship, fairness, and leadership. The strengths of humanity build relationships and focus on “between people.” Strengths of justice build communities and focus on “among people,” they are used in contexts that extend beyond one-to-one or small group interactions and can be employed toward a general group, even if no single, identifiable individual is the recipient. They help contribute to the welfare of groups, be they teams at work or in the town where you live. While love and kindness keep marriages happy and allow coworkers to chat easily on their lunch breaks, strengths of justice tend to promote a broader, healthier, and more positive structure in which individual relationships can flourish.

Sharing information about the two types of social strengths motivates the client to invest in building these; since, for many people, it does not make sense to invest effort in what already comes naturally. Many people are weakness-focused and inclined to guard against these. Frequently, our roles at home and work can be modified slightly so that strengths more than compensate for personal weaknesses.

To know when to coach toward strengths and when to overcome deficits, figure out with the client what minimum level of competency is necessary for her particular role at work or home. What behaviors and outcomes would indicate your client’s competence at her job? Working with your clients early on to establish whether a strengths-based focus is the best approach for your work together is a starting point.

Strengths of Humanity

Strengths of humanity help us care for people and relationships; they help us be empathic, sensitive, and compassionate, and they make us kind and considerate.

The Character Strength of Love

There are many types of love, and the strength of love involves a variety of positive feelings and actions, including affection, protection, support, and sacrifice. Some of these words may be more easily welcomed in the workplace than others. You might ask your client what she would be willing to sacrifice to help a coworker or friend, or what support she is willing to give her colleagues.

Inquiring into the capacity to love and be loved can take many forms. Does the client surround herself with caring individuals? If so, what does she learn from them, and how can she apply these lessons? If not, how can she change the quality of her social connections? Love tends to cluster with gratitude; people high in one strength are often high on the other. Interventions that promote gratitude also increase a sense of connection with others. To the extent this is true, use the gratitude interventions described elsewhere when working with your clients on their positive relationships with family members and colleagues.

The Character Strength of Kindness

Kindness is immensely beneficial to relationships and deserves to be celebrated. Kindness is about genuine compassion toward others. Kind people are generous, caring, and altruistic. People who score high on measures of kindness are the most likely to lend a helping hand when you need one. They are also good at moral reasoning. This extends the strength of kindness into the moral realm of connectedness and compassion.

Generosity is a particular way of kindness associated with both empathy and happiness. Giving to others by sharing resources, be it time and attention, effort, or financial support, is intensely rewarding for us; it connects us with others and boosts self-confidence. When people act generously, it is a sign that they are flourishing, and it feels good.

The most effective people understand social dynamics and navigate them well. Work with your clients to identify and develop their greatest social strengths; help them perform optimally at work and succeed at home.

Strengths of Justice

Each of us is equipped, to some degree, with the strengths of justice. We all appreciate fairness when it happens and feel our blood boil when it does not. We are all grateful when we receive the loyalty of others and feel a sting if we do not.

The Character Strength of Citizenship

Citizenship is about successfully fulfilling group obligations. Work citizenship is usually defined as appropriate punctuality, absenteeism, preparedness, and adequate performance. A good citizen extends beyond self-interest and acts to benefit the larger group. Citizenship has many facets, including teamwork and loyalty; pulling one’s weight on a team and being committed to the group inspires the respect and mutual commitment of others; it also provides the opportunity to define the culture of one’s group due to its social power, setting the standard for performance by which everyone else will be judged.

Explore with your clients what type of loyalty they expect from others and how much loyalty they would want in a perfect world. What would loyalty look like for your client? How might she describe the current culture of loyalty?

Encourage your client to build more loyalty by increasing small commitments. Extracting a commitment to action works out her loyalty muscles. Use the coaching relationship to model loyalty for your client and set up opportunities for her to experience loyalty wins.

The Character Strength of Fairness

We are irritated when someone breaks a rule, implicit or explicit, for their gain. We learn about fairness early in our lives, and our moral reasoning develops throughout life in stages.

Fairness is also something we can easily bypass with our intricate ways of self-deception, convincing ourselves that a little bending the rules is of no harm when we are out for revenge, cheating because other people do, and acting unfairly because there is no identifiable victim to our act.

Pay attention to the client’s attitude toward fairness. Is fairness something they value? Does their concept of fairness match yours, or do the two of you disagree? Go beyond the cost-benefit analysis when dealing with a moral dilemma; ask your client what other people would think of her actions or what she might do in a perfect world. Ask what the short- and long-term consequences of a particular course of action would be. Find areas of their lives where they appreciate fairness. These examples can be models that form a foundation of fairness that can be translated to various work settings.

Optimal functioning means more than just meeting one’s personal needs with a large paycheck and steady career advancement. The people regarded widely as good folks with solid character also employ strengths of justice. These are the people we trust and, ideally, the types of people we would like to work with or help our clients become.

Action Steps for PPCs: Coaching to Social Strengths

Culture can profoundly impact self-esteem.

What kind of culture do you have in your coaching sessions, and how do you establish a culture of success?

How do you promote a positive culture that impacts everyone if you coach with groups?

Consider how you might organize your intake session, referral process, correspondence, and other interactions to foster a culture that energizes your clients and boost their confidence.

Weaknesses are unavoidable; we all have our deficits. At times, it makes sense to focus on these areas as a potential avenue for growth.

Take time to consider: concerning the problem at hand, may using strengths be more effective than shoring up weaknesses?

Watch your client’s energy level rise as you take this new approach.

The word love, how might you talk about this important strength?

Would you use words like admiration, camaraderie, sacrifice, and support?

How might you tie together the exercise of this virtue with the outcomes your client values?

Most clients facing challenges or problems focus on facts and overlook how social roles play into the issue. Social roles carry with them a variety of expectations and scripts. Social roles tell us we should face forward and remain quiet in the elevator. They tell us we should follow a predictable conversation at the checkout counter. Social scripts suggest ways to act and interact in many situations.

How can you work with your client, so she sees herself as the author of her script, free to make revisions and small changes to move the action forward?