If People Came with a Warning Sign, What Would Yours Say?

If People Came with a Warning Sign, What Would Yours Say?

It is easy to identify the “warning signs” to post on other’s foreheads.  I can picture that person with a sign saying, “Beware – I talk to much!”.  I wish they would just stop and listen and be more sensitive to other people.  Sometimes I just want to walk away.  Or perhaps you know that man who gives their opinion in the group and won’t change their viewpoint regardless of the evidence presented.  We all see the sign above their head that says, “Beware – I am unbending.”  You and I both know the woman that carries herself as if she owned the world.  She walks like a peacock, strutting into the meeting expecting everyone else to listen to what she has to say.  She has a neon sign above her head that says, “Beware – I am arrogant!”.  It is obvious to almost everyone that these people negatively impact people by their behavior, but they persist in acting that way.

However, it is much more difficult to identify the warning sign that is above our own heads.  We are often blind and oblivious to how we are perceived by others.  For this reason, we don’t make the adjustments or change our behavior.  From our own perspective, we are behaving in an appropriate way.  If we were aware of our negative impact on others, we might make changes immediately.

So what warning sign is posted over your head when you walk into a room?  That is a fascinating and revealing question.  To answer it appropriately, we would need to have a fair amount of self-awareness about how others see us.  What hinders us is the gap between how we see ourselves, and how others experience us.  We have different perceptions.

Corestrengths offers us a way of understanding the gap between our own perception of ourselves and the perception of others.  In this paradigm, each person has strengths that are preferred.  They are our “go to strengths”.  We use them often because they usually serve us well.  But when they fail to achieve the results we want, we tend to increase the volume of this strength, much like turning up the volume on a radio.  They volume may be so loud for others that it become offensive to others (their perception).  It is in these overdone strengths that tend to be repeated in relationships so that we can develop a “warning sign” that we don’t want above our heads.

Let’s take the strength “persevering” as an example.  Persevering is a great strength that is useful in many ways.  When persevering you keep your course of action and work through every obstacle regardless of how difficult it may be.  You don’t give up.  With that kind of determination you might win the prize or even the Olympics!  However, that same strength overdone might be experienced as stubborn.  If you persevere so strongly, you run the danger of resisting change and going the wrong direction.  You may be seen as unwilling to listen to wise counsel and run directly into a wall.  The dark side of persevering is stubbornness.  While you might feel like you are persevering, others may perceive you as stubborn.

All our strengths can be overdone and perceived as a weakness.  We can overdo them by using the strength frequently.  We can overdo strengths by doing them for a long time with changing (duration).  We can also overdo strengths by becoming more intense.  Lastly, we may use our strength in a context that makes little sense (i.e. persevere in trying to become a professional hockey player when you are five foot two and weigh 130 pounds).  When we overdo our strengths regardless of what they are, we run the danger of being a conflict trigger to others.  When we trigger others often, we may develop a warning sign over our heads that others see.

To answer the question, “If people came with a warning sign, what would yours say?”, I would answer that I am an “Arrogant, abrasive, and reckless person!”  Am I like that always?  NO!  At least I hope not!  But I do have the propensity to be perceived that way when I overdo my strengths.  My top strength is Confidence, but when I overdo this strength it can be perceived as Arrogance.  I speak strongly and with authority.  I am sure of my opinions.  That one gets me into trouble often, so I must be very careful.  I can also appear Abrasive when I overdo Persuasive.  My wife tells me that I turn on my “attorney mode.”  She doesn’t usually appreciate it and it doesn’t help at all.  I am a Risk taker at heart and have a sense of what will bear fruit and I am willing to go for it.  It has paid off for me throughout life.  When I use this strength, it triggers conflict in others who are more cautious.  They see me as Reckless.  I don’t want to go through life with these warning signs over my head because they damage relationships.

To avoid overdoing your strengths and improving relationships, here are a number of things you can do.

  1. Become acutely aware of your tendency to overdo your strengths. Know what strengths you overdo frequently.  Understand the positive intent of your strength as well as how they may be perceived by others.
  2. Become aware when you are most likely to overdo your strengths. What is the context?  Who are you with?  What goal is being challenged for you?  Knowing when you are likely to overdo your strengths will help you avoid the trap.
  3. What are the signs you are tempted to overdo your strengths? Most people have a physiological response that includes an increase of adrenaline.  You may also feel blood rushing up your neck, clenched fists, a tapping foot, or blinking eye lid.  Identify signals of when you are likely to be tempted.
  4. Recount the cost and impact on relationships. Think about when you overdid your strengths and the impact it had on others.  You may even want to ask those you trust when they have seen you overdo your strengths and how it impacted them.  Feeling the impact of the damage of overdone strengths may help your commitment to avoid this kind of behavior in the future.
  5. Give permission for people to call you on your overdone strengths. Other people may sense when you are overdoing your strengths before you catch yourself.  Educate those you work with or your family about your overdone strengths and ask them to help you recognize them if it happens.
  6. Choose a different strength when you feel tempted to overdo. You can choose a different strength rather than overdoing your go to strengths.  Try using a strength that others in the room see as valuable.  My strength may be Persevering, but if that doesn’t seem to be working, I could use Option Oriented.  Choosing a strength from a different motivation may help you get the results you are looking to achieve.

As a note to those who are seeing that warning sign over someone’s head, your understanding of other people is influenced by your perception.  You may perceive someone as Arrogant rather than Confident simply because of your own perception.  Others may not perceive it the same way.  One way to avoid a negative reaction because of your perception is to change your perception.  When you see a “warning sign” over someone’s head, ask the question, “What is the strength that is intended by that person?”  That person who seems so Intrusive may be just trying to be Sociable.  That Arrogant person may simply be displaying their Confidence.  Believe the best of others.  By changing our perceptions, we may be able to avoid triggering conflict in yourself and others.

If you have taken the SDI 2.0, you have a list of your top overdone strengths.  Keep these before yourself and review them often.  Read the descriptions of the overdone strength and how you can moderate the impact of your strength on others.  Live at peace with others by owning your overdone strength tendencies and choosing a different course of action.

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.