Why You Should Value Your Weaknesses in the Workplace

Stressed businessman holding a hand to the bridge of his nose
By Hallie Crawford

Many articles focus on how to use our strengths in the workplace. This is very important, because we were all born with natural talents and abilities, and learning how to use them in the workplace helps us be more productive, successful and fulfilled in our career.

However, it's also important to think about our weaknesses. We usually don't think about them, because weaknesses can be viewed as negative personality traits. And it's true that we should spend most of our time leveraging our strengths rather than improving our weaknesses. However, these negative traits are part of who we are, just as our strengths are. Not owning them or accepting them is like not accepting a part of who we are – warts and all.Plus, in some cases, we can learn from our weaknesses or negative traits. Sometimes they can be channeled to become strengths when used in the right way, or they can become more positive traits if we take a different perspective on them. Either way, we must learn to accept our weaknesses and understand them, in order to be professionally successful. It is an important part of being emotionally intelligent and self-aware.

Here are two ways you can begin to work with your negative traits:

First, identify them. What do you perceive to be your top five weaknesses? I know most of us do not like to focus on weaknesses, let alone admit we have them. This process can be a difficult, because it requires humility and self-reflection. Ask yourself what your weaknesses are, and write them down.

If you find it difficult to identify what they are, try writing down five strengths and then the corresponding weakness by taking the opposite of the strength. For example, your strength may be that you are flexible and laid back, able to adapt to changes in a plan or project. Your corresponding weakness may be that you are disorganized or chronically late to meetings. Another way to identify a weakness is to identify extremes in your strengths. An example of this could be that you love your job, but when you become a workaholic, that becomes a weakness.

Action tip: Write down your weaknesses, and ask a trusted family member or friend if he or she agrees with your self-examination.

Second, decide which weaknesses could either be channeled positively or seen in a different perspective. Evaluate each negative trait on your list, and ask yourself: Is there a way I can use this to my advantage? Or, is there a different perspective I can take on this weakness to turn it into a strength?

For example, we tend to frown upon procrastination as a negative trait. But what if waiting until closer to a deadline gives you the motivation and inspiration you need to work on a project, and working on it far in advance doesn't provide that? Even though society may frown upon working on tasks at the last minute, this may be when you get your best work done, because you are focused. Looking at procrastination as something that makes you are more effective can turn this negative trait into a positive tool you can leverage for yourself.

Or, say you're a big-picture person who is less focused on the details. While that lack of attention to detail may be frustrating to your co-workers, your ability to think about big-picture strategy and avoid being bogged down in the details is what enables you to hold the agenda for your team to achieve its goals. So don't beat up on yourself about the lack of attention to detail; understand and accept how having that trait is an advantage in some cases. Consider how you can leverage your big-picture thinking on your team calls, and ask another team member to help with the details if necessary. This would allow you to leverage your big-picture thinking more effectively.

In the example above about being a workaholic, first consider if that's a problem for you or a perception of others. If it's just a perception, and you enjoy your work so much you want to focus on it that often, then accept that as part of who you are! However, if it's a problem for your family, for example, find the value in what you do. Does it provide a certain lifestyle for your family members that they want to continue? Or is there a disconnect, and they'd prefer to have you around more? If it's the latter, can you work with them to find a way to create better balance in your life to spend time with them? Perhaps they can help around the house, for example, so you can free up time to spend with them.

Keep in mind that this exercise takes some time and thought. And not every weakness can be channeled into a strength. Some just flat-out need to be adjusted, like being late to meetings. Find a way to get yourself there on time with an alarm 10 minutes in advance of each meeting. However, other weaknesses can be channeled or better understood as either a strength and, if nothing else, as something to acknowledge about yourself at the end of the day.

Action tip: Using the examples above, and decide which weaknesses you can leverage as strengths in the workplace. Read about them online. Ask trusted friends or co-workers how your weaknesses affect them and how they think you could channel them positively. Plan out a four-week program to start using your possibly negative traits as positive influences in the workplace.
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