It's All About Context, Baby

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Humor me for a second, will ya?


💪 Briefly consider what your greatest strengths are...


😔 Now, ponder about your greatest weaknesses...


As cliché as the question is, particularly during any type of interview, it is always important to evaluate what you excel at and what areas may need improvement. I’m sure the more you genuinely take the time to consider both, the more the answers will come flooding to you.


Let’s say you are in a managerial role of some sort and you have been dubbed as a micromanager...gasp! Just the thought of you being called this may make you cringe or instinctively get defensive. So, naturally, you work on combating this criticism by providing a more laid-back, or less of a hand-holding approach to your leadership.


Or, perhaps you are a tremendous speaker and have been heaped with praise since your speech-giving days back in high school. Ever since, you have been called to speak regularly and that strength continues to be leaned on at your place of work. You may even feel obligated to speak up during meetings or in conversations with friends.


Both scenarios pose traditional examples of weaknesses and strengths and you probably thought absolutely nothing of them. Until recently, I didn't either.


Allow me tell you a story of the first feedback I received in the corporate world as an employee...


During a one-on-one with my manager, I received relatively high praise for my work, but got hit with one of those words, or in this case a phrase, that makes you get defensive: analysis paralysis.


🥊 What a gut punch.


In case you aren’t aware of this phrase, it’s essentially means that when one is presented with an issue or problem, they simply spend too much time considering options instead of reaching the perceived best solution in an efficient manner. Another phrase, “piss or get off the pot,” conveys a similar message.


I recall initially feeling upset about the feedback received, then brushed it off and moved on, never putting much thought into it again.


It wasn’t until late last year, while listening to a podcast with Simon Sinek and Brené Brown, that I learned about how strengths and weaknesses are completely reliant on context. And it wasn’t until very recently, after reading Think Again by Adam Grant, that I came to the realization that this feedback of "you have analysis paralysis" reflected a trait that I tend to lean on as a strength...


🤷 Go figure.


In Think Again, Adam Grant explains the process of rethinking and how we should constantly be questioning ourselves, our decisions, and our thoughts. He makes the case that, oftentimes, we settle into three distinct roles:


Preachers, Prosecutors, and Politicians.


These three differing roles all take away from the same thing: seeking the truth and improving as a result of finding it.


📣 The Preacher sits on their pulpit, evangelizing why their “thing” (belief, value, idea) is the best thing.


👨‍⚖️ The Prosecutor judges and spits fire on you for believing your “thing” while trying to poke holes continuously in your thing until you change your mind and believe in their thing.


🗳️ Then we have the Politician who sways from belief to belief depending on whatever the consensus wants and oftentimes panders to the masses in order to be liked.


These three roles we all play cling to ego and admonish the truth, almost at all costs. As true truth-seekers and re-thinkers we should continuously rethink our approaches, beliefs, and ideas. Without going into too much detail about the book, you should give Think Again a read with Helium Books.


While rethinking isn’t the quickest route to reaching an ultimate solution, it undoubtedly leads to best solutions. Rethinking is a process, typically one that requires persistent reflection.


Now, why did I go into great length about rethinking?


Because it goes hand-in-hand with the analysis paralysis feedback I received. I came to the realization after listening to the podcast episode with Simon Sinek and Brené Brown and reading Think Again by Adam Grant that, in the right context, analysis paralysis can, in fact, be considered a strength.


As someone who attempts to cram their weeks with varying activities, some for pleasure, others for work, I am constantly reconsidering options and altering my schedule as needed in order to optimize the time I have. In a sense, the constant rethinking and the slow nature of analyzing the most efficient schedule, is in fact a strength.


While people pride themselves on snap decisions and getting to an answer quickly, we can easily become blind to other, perhaps better, alternatives. I now no longer feel condemned for the feedback I received. Analysis paralysis can be a strength. By continually weighing options in my head and reconsidering the best path to traverse, I am leveraging my perceived weakness and using it for good.


Now...


Back to those two earlier traditional examples of being a micromanager and a great public speaker.


While you may gasp every time you hear the word micromanager, consider the proper context where your other co-workers, or boss, were relieved that you went over everything with a fine-toothed comb or poked and prodded on a project that wasn’t yours. Sometimes we need a micromanager to help us catch things we missed or even be coached on something we may have heard 100 times, because hearing it for 101st time might be the time that it finally clicks for us.


Even in the case of a great public speaker, sometimes you don’t think about how often you speak and could become long winded in times where concision, or even complete silence, is needed. You could become unaware of how often you speak because you have received continuous praise for doing so. It could even get so bad that you simply speak for the sake of speaking without having any value to bring to a conversation or meeting, which could be detrimental to your credibility.


While both of these are rather traditional examples of weaknesses and strengths, the point of discussing them is to not only point out how perceived attributes differ with context, but also to rethink how we think about categorizing attributes themselves.


The best we can do with any of our learned, or innate, abilities is to be aware of them and understand how we can best leverage them given the context. The hope is that we can thrive with any of these abilities, regardless of how they are perceived, by calling on them in situations where they can be utilized positively and leaving them idle when they may emerge as weaknesses.


Remember, it’s all about context, baby.