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Finding Strength in Your Weaknesses

We’ve all experienced the most popular interview question ever: “What is your weakness?” About everyone prepares an answer to the question. And there’s certainly no shortage of advice as to how to answer that. I’ve heard answers like: “I’m a perfectionist, and it gets in the way.” Honestly though, I think that question might actually be more useful finding out how genuine someone is more than anything else. However, finding strength in your weaknesses is not only overlooked but often times simply dismissed as unimportant. So why do weaknesses/strengths matter? Let’s find out.

1. Perspective

Weaknesses and strengths are arguably a matter of perspective. Who is identifying them? And in what context? Where will they be applied and for what needs? Weaknesses are very often strengths and vice versa. A strength of yours could be perceived as a weakness or threat in a different area. This is why it’s so important to be clear about your strengths and weaknesses in context. You might feel stuck or underappreciated in one area, but empowered in another. Where could your perceived weaknesses have a better fit?

I have personally been accused of being stubborn, of losing myself in details, of obsessing over costs, planning for too long, or being like a quality cop. I’ve had bosses feel threatened because I ask too many questions or because I completed tasks “fast”. Or more amusing, for doing something I was told to do, but somehow they didn’t really mean for me to do it. Politics is not my forte. For them it was a weakness, for other work cultures, clear communication is preferable. Regardless, for years I felt I was a misfit. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog. I wondered, am I hard to work with? Eventually I landed with a boss that valued me precisely for these “weaknesses.” What a paradox.

2. Relative

In project management, projects have to be delivered on Quality, Time, and Cost. I’ve heard discussions that you can only have 2 at a time. Which one do you think is more important? And do they really have to be mutually exclusive? To me, prevention (quality) ends up saving more time and definitely more money in the long run. Still, without a timely product to deliver there is no business.

What I’m getting at is this: strength is relative to the needs of a specific area. Strengths/weaknesses are domain dependent. The strengths that are beneficial in a particular area may be harmful or a liability elsewhere, and vice versa. For instance, production will want to focus more on producing fast, as opposed to the quality department which will be more concerned on how well it was made. Sales and marketing will be focused on the price, etc. Of course, they all matter.

So strengths and weaknesses are often one in the same depending on where you stand. You can find strength as you see your weaknesses, and you can see where you’re vulnerable in your strengths as well. As you observe your weaknesses or others point them out, ask: My perceived weakness is ____ relative to what? All you need to do is identify where and (especially) with whom your strengths can shine. It’s all relative. However, coming up with fake weaknesses disguised as strengths at interviews is a waste of time. You’re better off finding where you’d be the most valuable and communicate that. If you’re the interviewer, find fitness not weaknesses.

3. Environment

Maybe one of the most overlooked places to understand your current situation is the environment. To be a stout tree pays off in a rain forest, but not so much in a desert. Consider which strengths/weaknesses might affect you negatively or positively in different environments:

  • Company’s culture and values
  • State/country political inclinations
  • Family values
  • Cultural norms

Where could you be most valued? Where can you belong?

Do we have genuine weaknesses? Sure we do. Can we improve them? Definitely. You can always find out how to learn more, know more, and help the most. For this insight though, if you identify which personal weaknesses may actually be a strength or find where you could move to have a better fit, that is a huge win. What if you don’t know where you could fit better? Be patient, keep looking, and don’t label yourself. Like they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So are weaknesses and strengths.

Juan F. Diaz

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