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We all have talents or attributes that allow us to be naturally good at certain things. Some people are gifted at bringing others together and including everyone in an event or a conversation (a natural includer). Some people are born optimists and see the glass that is half full even or overflowing with opportunity in almost any situation (naturally highly positive people).

And some people (like me) are learning junkies and like sponges just waiting to absorb new information (learners). Talents are part of our personality and hard to acquire if they don’t come naturally to us.

The combination of our natural talents is like our own fingerprint – they make us who we are and shape how we interact with the world around us. According to Gallup, talents are ‘naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied’. Talents become strengths when we invest time in practicing and applying them deliberately until we can consistently get ‘near-perfect’ results. Sound a bit tough?

Here’s the kicker; our talents can become weaknesses when we use them at the wrong intensity or in a situation where they aren’t ideally suited. Let me give you an example. Say you’re someone who has a talent for confidently leading others. You’ve got an air of confidence and authority about you and have no trouble stepping up to take charge. That’s a talent for command. When I coach people, who have this talent and it’s not fully developed they can overuse it and they can come across as bulldozers who just drive right over the top of others’ opinions and ideas. That natural confidence and sense of leadership gets in the way of stopping to consult and consider other people’s thoughts and feelings. Does that sound familiar? There might be someone in your life who sounds like this.

On the other hand, when we invest time and energy to develop our talents, they become strengths. They can be applied in a thoughtful and deliberate way. When you know your talents, you can pay attention to them. You’ve got a language and a framework to understand how and why you think and respond to situations in the way you do. There’s an amazing opportunity to tune in and notice when those talents show up both in useful ways and when they get in your way as well.

Here’s a quick exercise you can do. Take a strengths quiz online (there are a few available like Clifton Strengths, VIA Character Survey and Stand Out). Look at your top strengths or talents. Make 2 lists; for each strength write down what it looks like when it’s applied thoughtfully and at the right intensity. Let’s call this column ‘working for me’. In the second column write down what is happening when that strength is allowed to run amok or isn’t serving you well. I call this column ‘working against me’.

Let’s say communication is one of your talents; when it’s serving you well you are probably someone who can clearly share your thoughts and ideas with others as well as helping other people get their message across. When it’s working against you, you might send long rambling emails or over-explain your thoughts and ideas when it might be far more effective to ask a curious question and listen to the answer.

When we apply our talents in the right situations, at the right intensity then they work for us. They serve us and allow us to get the best possible results. When our talents come out in the wrong situations and the volume is up too high, they get in the way and can actually undermine what we are trying to achieve. By paying attention to your talents and applying effort to use them in a deliberate way, you can harness the power of your natural talents and turn them into your greatest strengths.