Your Reflected Best Self™

Getting a Deeper Understanding of Your Strengths

Your reflected best self

© iStockphoto

Think of your national athletics team at the Olympics. All the individuals in it are exceptionally talented – but at different things. The javelin thrower is able to throw his javelin powerfully and release it from his grasp at exactly the right time; the marathon runner has phenomenal endurance; and the sprinter has powerful leg muscles so that she can explode out of the starting blocks.

No team manager would encourage the sprinter to start throwing javelins, nor would he assign the endurance athlete to the 100 meter race. If he did, he'd be ignoring their strengths, and expecting them to deliver results from an area of weakness.

Yet managers do this every day in business! If you're not convinced, think back to your last appraisal. Did your boss praise the way that you carried out various key aspects of your role? Or do the "areas for improvement" he or she identified stand out more clearly in your mind?

The chances are that the criticisms are most memorable. And what this means is that, at best, you're working on your improving your weaknesses, and you're ignoring your strengths.

Why Strengths Matter

Of course, managers clearly need to point out areas of team members' performance which are not up to standard, if that area is an essential part of the job. But there are two good reasons why ignoring people's strengths can fail to yield the results that managers want. For instance, increased performance.

First, focusing on weaknesses often doesn't encourage people to work on those weaknesses: negative feedback generally puts us on the defensive. And, for many, it's natural to deny that the observations are true, or to dismiss them as irrelevant, by telling themselves that that aspect of their work isn't important anyway. Either way, they're not motivated to do much about it.

On the other hand, most of us respond well to praise. We realize that what we're doing is appreciated, so we try to repeat the positive behavior, in the hope of getting more praise.

Second, there's good evidence that our strengths and weaknesses are, to some extent, fixed. (For more on this, listen to our Expert Interview with Chuck Martin entitled Are we hardwired for success?, or read our article on Benziger's Personality Types  .)

But are you clear about what your strengths are? The traditional appraisal system offers only so much help in identifying them. What we need is a way of finding out what they are, and also of figuring out what we should do to "play to our strengths". The Reflected Best Self™ exercise helps us do just that, and this article gives our interpretation of the exercise.

How to Use the Tool

This is an overview of the steps in the Reflected Best Self™ technique:

Step 1: Survey Others About Your Strengths

Identify ten or so individuals who are in a position to give you accurate feedback about your strengths. This group should include current colleagues, but also, ideally, former colleagues, friends and family members.

Then, ask them to think about what your strengths are, and to give an example to back up every strength they identify. The strengths don't need to be specifically work-related. In fact, if you're unhappy in your current job, it's particularly important that you get feedback from people who know you from outside a work context, as they may identify real strengths that you have which you're unable to display at work.

Tip 1:

In this step, your feedback group needs to understand why you're asking for feedback on your strengths and that you're not just fishing for compliments (which would be embarrassing for all concerned).

Tip 2:

If you're doing this at work, consider doing this as a group with co-workers who are interested in doing the exercise themselves.

Tip 3:

If you're too embarrassed to do this, identify 10 people who like you and know you well. Ask yourself what these people would say your strengths are. Remember, though, that your answers won't be as good if you don't ask the people themselves!

Step 2: Identify Themes

Once you have all of the responses in from your survey group, start to group the responses together into themes. Some of the themes may reflect strengths you were aware of, but they may also identify things that you hadn't realized were strengths because they come so naturally to you.


If you're struggling to find common themes, consider using an affinity diagram   to help you do this.

Step 3: Write Your Strengths Profile

Next, draw together the key strengths that have emerged from your analysis, and tie them together in a few paragraphs that summarize what you're really good at.

When you're writing this, bear in mind that you'll use this in the future in two ways: first, to guide future actions and choices, and second to shore up your confidence when times get tough.

Step 4: Identify How You Can Play to Your Strengths

With a clear idea of your strengths, take a long, hard look at your current role. Are you playing to your strengths? If not, can you adapt the focus and nature of your work to make more of your strengths?

For example, are you really a "people person" who's spending half a day a week compiling reports? Is there someone in your team who would be better suited to this kind of work, and be grateful for the extra responsibility, while you spend the extra time coaching team members?

Or maybe you're a Sales and Marketing Manager who has come to the role from a sales position. You have a great knowledge of your products and understanding of what your company's customers need, but you also have a real weakness when it comes to copywriting. Here, hire a copywriter to turn your enthusiasm into words for your brochures.

If you do this, not only will your marketing materials read better, but you'll also free up time to spend with the product development team, letting them know what customers are telling you about the product range.

Key Points

The Reflected Best Self™ exercise is a simple, structured process that helps you identify, and make the most of your strengths. It is not a replacement for the traditional appraisal approach which identifies areas for improvement with respect to your job description. Rather, playing to your strengths is an opportunity to raise your overall performance levels, by focusing on areas where you can excel, rather than simply being competent.

In order to have a clear head to consider the outcomes of Reflected Best Self™ analysis, it's best to carry it out at a different time of year from your appraisal.

The Reflected Best Self™ Exercise is a copyrighted instrument of the Regents of the University of Michigan, USA. This Mind Tools article sets out our interpretation of the exercise. You can purchase the original Reflected Best Self™ exercise online here.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

Add this article to My Learning Plan

Comments (12)
  • MichaelP wrote Over a month ago
    elsap0p, thank you for sharing your insightful comments and your progress well done. We all need feedback to improve and asking for it is exactly the right thing to do. Good luck on your journey of self awareness and success.
  • elsap0p wrote Over a month ago
    I did a similar excercise to this last year and the results really helped me see which areas of my behaviour I needed to focus on, like speaking out more at meetings. Most of the feedback I received was somewhat expected, but some was a real eye opener! Things I had never thought about.

    I would really recommend this excercise. If you are nervous, ask people you feel confident with first. I will be repeating the excercise again this year and have spoken to some of the people who gave me input to see if they had noticed a change, which they had!
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi mwc242,
    I"ll look forward to hearing about your results after you have analyzed them.

    If you have received 5, out of 13, responses so far, could you 'chase them up' in a general email (to everyone) thanking those who have responded and asking those who have yet to complete it to do so?

  • mwc242 wrote Over a month ago
    I created a survey and sent it to 13 people, anon feedback, so far have had response from 5. Although too soon to start making judgements about the results I have noticed some odd and nexpected responses.

    I will come back with more once I've had more data and the chance to really think about what it all means.
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi mwc242,
    I think survey monkey could work. It can be set up to be anonymous if you want. It's also easy to use. Remember to explain to the participants what you are doing and why. This gives them a better understanding of the type of feedback you are looking for. You can also use face to face discussions or make that optional for people. I think a large part of the decision depends on who you intend to ask for feedback.

    It's a great exercise and can be very insightful. Be prepared for all the feedback you get and analyze it as objectively as possible. Some of the points may catch you off guard but those can be the most exciting places to start improving as long as you don't take it too personally.

    Let us know how it goes!

  • mwc242 wrote Over a month ago
    Would you see using survey monkey to help with this exercise as appropriate?
  • Rachel wrote Over a month ago
    Hi All

    Do you know make the most of your strengths? Do you even know what your strengths are?

    The Reflected Best Self exercise is a simple, structured process that helps you identify, and make the most of, your strengths.

    Find out how to use it in this week's Featured Favorite!

    Best wishes

  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Henk - great idea!!! That's a fabulous way to leverage LinkedIn and learn more about yourself and your strengths in the process.

    Thanks for sharing the idea!
  • genals wrote Over a month ago
    I did this exercise using my LinkedIn recommendations by colleagues and partners. For each recommendation I picked out one or two qualities.

    If anything, here is a good reason to ask for these recommendations. You get highly focused feedback that also boosts your LinkedIn profile.

  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Thanks for the suggestion vtulintsev. It really is important to understand our personal strengths and the more tools we can use the better.

    Keep us posted on other good tools you have used!

    Talk soon!
Show all comments

Where to go from here:

Join the Mind Tools Club

Click to join Mind Tools
Printer-friendly version
Return to the top of the page

Your Score
Create a Login to Save Your Learning Plan

This ensures that you don’t lose your plan.

Connect with…

Or create a Mind Tools login. Existing user? Log in here.
Log in with your existing Mind Tools details
Lost Username or Password
You are now logged in…

Lost username or password?

Please enter your username or email address and we'll send you a reminder.

Thank You!

Your log in details have been sent to the email account you registered with. Please check your email to reset your login details.

Create a Mind Tools Login
Your plan has been created.

While you're here, subscribe to our FREE newsletter?

Learn a new career skill every week, and get our Personal Development Plan workbook (worth $19.99) when you subscribe.

Thank You!

Please check your Inbox, and click on the link in the email from us. We can then send you the newsletter.