Your Glasses or Mine?


I remember the first time I learned about Gary Chapman's The 5 Love LanguagesIt was an "ah-ha" moment for me, realizing that all too often, we speak "our language" to other people, expecting them to respond. What Chapman has done is provide a common framework so that we can start considering one another's love languages, which in turn leads to more effective communication and healthier relationships.

CliftonStrengths takes a similar approach to what Chapman did - providing a common language/framework to describe how we each see the world. However, with 34 talent themes and endless combinations of theme dynamics, it's a little more complicated! What isn't complicated, however, is the idea that our unique combination of talents colors the way we each see the world. Think of your strengths like a pair of glasses that filters everything you see, hear and absorb.

So if you've followed my metaphor thus far, the question is, when we interact with others (whose strengths are different than our own), whose glasses should we look through? In other words, should I speak my strengths language, or yours?

If our talents describe our natural patterns of thought, feeling and behavior, than it would feel highly unnatural for me to try to "wear" your glasses. I would literally feel like I felt as a kid when I'd slip on my mom's prescription reading glasses and see nothing but a blur! Trading glasses would not help me to see things through your perspective any better, but would leave me with one major headache! What is effective, however, is for me to recognize and understand that you wear different glasses than I do. From there, I can open my eyes and ears to learning from you and appreciating our differences. But in the end, I still need to wear my own glasses. Own my own talents. Stay true to who I'm uniquely designed to be.

So back to my original question: when partnering with someone different than me, do I try to speak their language? Or expect them to speak mine? The answer is neither. Powerful partnerships exist when two unique individuals can communicate their needs and their assets, while respecting another person's needs and assets. I must be true to my language, while seeking to learn yours, and you must do the same to me in return.

Common language. Complementary filters. Increased understanding. Improved communication. That is the power of strengths-based development.

Caitlin Kissee is a Gallup-certified strengths coach and owner/founder of Propel People Development LLC. She can be reached at