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Strengths Conversations – Use your Tools to Deal with Obstacles

September 10, 2018 by ·

I love working with character strengths since I see them hit home so often. One of the conversations I love most with any client or group, is about dealing with difficult situations. Tell me of a situation you were struggling with recently, that you want to learn from and improve on. I let them tell the story so they have a vivid mental picture of it. Then, together we link the story to the person’s Character Strengths. Here’s where I find the use of some tools very helpful. I show a poster of the 24 strengths or spread out strengths cards. Which strengths were you using in this situation? Were there strengths you were overusing or underusing? By letting them tell about what happened and what they felt, it becomes a heartfelt personal story. The poster or cards help the client put a name to whatever strength they recognize in their story.

Keep the feeling

Sometimes, it becomes too cognitive. Talking about strengths is more of a memory exercise then, in which they try to remember what was on top of their survey outcome. Hm, okay… I think that Critical Thinking and Prudence are really high on my list. But wait, let me read my test results… Often, this distracts from the valuable conversation. In that case, I let them recall the experience again, relive it. Ok, it’s somewhat hard to find the specific strength now. Can you describe to me again what happened in your story? What feeling did you get? What did you do? What were your thoughts in that moment? With that vivid memory, I let them pick the relevant strengths from the cards, poster or test results. They don’t have to memorize the 24 strengths (although it helps in the long run to have names for strengths). Using the test results to fuel the conversation can be great too. We might pick the cards for someone’s signature strengths based on the survey and next, the client can tell stories of how she used those strengths.

Build the positive

At other times, clients struggle to keep the conversation positive and constructive. Nothing wrong with discussing the downside of strengths, but some clients can only see their weaknesses. They want to practice seeing strengths, but can’t help falling into that trap again and again. That’s where I love the golden mean, overuse and underuse terminology (Niemiec, 2014). So, apparently it didn’t all work out as you planned. Perhaps you were overusing some of your strengths? Can you pick which strengths you overused? […] Remember, these are still strengths, although they might have been out of balance. What value do these strengths offer you in daily life? I’ve seen clients who were completely surprised that there was any good in their ‘weaknesses’. Surprise turning into relief and even some pride! It helped them to understand and accept themselves more, the strength and the overuse being part of who they are. When the appreciation of the weakness-turned-strength is evident, the next step is a more active one. Don’t be too quick on this, since it may end up in ‘fixing’ the weaknesses without appreciating the strengths underlying it! Let’s look at your story of strength overuse again. Can you tell me what happened once more? It might be helpful to search for strengths that might help you to bring more balance. Look at the strengths: which could help you out in such situation? How would that work out? Again, let them explain it by imagining the experience.

For Dutch people

Of course, the poster and cards aren’t obligatory, but for me, they make it a lot easier for me to talk about the Character Strengths with clients. The VIA Institute already offers handouts in the resource section [] in English. Designer Sjors Gillissen, my wife and fellow psychologist Anouk van den Berg and me created a Dutch Character Strengths card game and poster. We’d love to share this printable poster, which you can freely us (with the proper VIA copyright attached to it). You can also buy the card game or a bigger poster print in our web shop []. We donate 10% of earnings to the VIA Institute to support their great work.


Thank you to our blog contributor, Matthijs Steeneveld, MSc, for this blog post and for your generous donations from the sales of the strengths cards! 

As a positive psychologist, Matthijs Steeneveld trains professionals to work with positive psychology, trains teams to improve cooperation and employees to use their strengths and deal with stress in a more constructive way. He is an experienced Mindfulness Based Strengths Practice trainer, often works with Appreciative Inquiry and Psychological Capital. With two colleagues, he founded the Dutch Bureau of Positive Psychology to educate professionals. He is member of the Editorial Board for the Dutch Journal of Positive Psychology, which aims to bring research to practitioners. He is author of a Dutch book on improving your psychological capital. He writes blogs in English [] and Dutch []. Together with Sjors Gillissen and Anouk van den Berg, he created the Dutch ‘Sterke Kanten Kaartspel’ which you can find here [].





Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

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