If you’ve spent much time with CliftonStrengths coaches, you are likely familiar with the terms “balconies” and “basements.” These terms represent the outcomes for ourselves and others, both positive (balconies) and negative (basements) that stem from the application of our most deeply engrained natural patterns and tendencies.
Much has been written about these concepts and if they are newer to you, I encourage you to read two great posts on the subject: Can a Strength Ever Be a Problem? and Balconies and Basements: Perception Is Reality.
In my coaching practice, I have found that my clients quickly identify with the basement concept and can see how their patterns have played out consistently in their lives. It’s the person with Responsibility who knows she takes on more than she can handle, yet continues to say yes. It’s the individual with Harmony who knows he is postponing a tough conversation, but cannot or will not initiate it. Where my clients struggle is not in the recognition of what gets in the way of success, but rather, in stopping the cycle that they have unconsciously, but comfortably, fallen into for years.
Inspired by Martin Seligman’s work around “learned optimism,” I have found three coaching strategies to be successful in building a staircase out of the basement and up to the balcony of my clients’ talents. I help them examine themselves and their patterns slightly differently -- ultimately with the goal of pushing pause on a vicious cycle and rebooting a more virtuous one.
Human beings are too complex to always do one thing. They are not always in this basement. I help my clients examine the outlier moments when they are not in their basement. I help them study moments in their balconies to understand what existed during those times that allowed them to be successful and live in their strengths. That examination gives them insights to replicate and thus stay out of their basements going forward.
Wilson, an account manager at a software company, was struggling with the basement of his Adaptability. His willingness to respond to teammate’s requests and other frequent daily distractions were keeping him from delivering on key tasks that he was responsible for completing. We discussed when, in his work or personal life, he had said no to requests or had been able to focus and resist distractions. He told me about the time he volunteered on a mission trip. Through this conversation it became clear that Wilson’s No. 6 theme, Belief, was at play. That on the mission trip, the alignment of his values with his work helped him to stay on course and provided a level of structure that he usually preferred to live without. Suddenly, he saw he could use his values as a filter to better assess what work to prioritize and where to adapt to the changing needs of his team.
Coaching Affirmation: You are not always in this basement.
Human beings are too complex to only be one thing. They are not only the theme in its basement. Often times, when my clients are struggling with a basement pattern, they need reminding that there is more to them than their vulnerabilities. I help them understand that their basement is specific and not universal, and thus they need to expand their vision of potential solutions beyond the current “basement,” and leverage their other “balconies.”
Reema was a strengths coach trying to finalize her business plan. As she described it, her dominant Intellection strength was keeping her from moving forward, because as she planned her business, she continually identified more and more avenues of thought and exploration. She enjoyed the contemplation process, but was aware of the passing time and the need to get her business off of the ground. We began to discuss other talents at her disposal, and she discovered that her Communication theme was underutilized. While thinking deeply and alone was a brilliant approach to uncovering great questions for Reema, talking out loud and with others had historically helped her clarify the answers she seeks. Reema discovered a need to more intentionally leverage key trusted friends and partners as sounding boards, to close the holes in her business plan and finally launch her coaching business.
Coaching Affirmation: You are not only one thing.
Humans are too complex to be limited by their thoughts and feelings. They are not their basement. When my clients struggle with breaking an unproductive pattern, I help them to see that they are not the pattern itself. Often times, the things we think or feel can seem like truths to us, but, in fact, they are merely thoughts or feelings. I help my clients to pull back from thoughts or feelings that may keep them in a basement and call them what they are. By making the internal external, I remove a bit of its power and help my client see that they are more than their tendencies.
Dan is a senior partner at a consulting company and leads with Self-Assurance, Competition and Maximizer. His 34th theme is Connectedness. Dan has an extremely strong internal locus of control. When we talked about what he struggled with, he said his biggest challenge is dealing with things that are out of his control and the feelings of failure that arise in those situations. As we explored his profile, we discussed his self-deterministic outlook on life -- an outlook that has contributed hugely to his successes as it has created in him a ton of drive and accountability for creating the future he wants. On the flip side, this can create a false sense of control over things he ultimately had no control over. Dan’s realization was that his strong feelings of failure were directly connected to his hardwired belief that he creates his own destiny. This insight alone will not prevent feelings of failure in the future, but it will allow him to name the feeling, and not internalize it, thus cycling through his basement faster than before.
Coaching Affirmation: You are not your basement.
Mara is a Senior Learning and Development Consultant with Gallup. Mara consults with leaders and leadership teams to assess key business issues through a human capital and behavioral economics lens. She architects, designs and delivers learning and change programs that create individual and organizational transformation.
She has provided strengths and engagement coaching and consulting to individuals and teams in many industry sectors, including financial services, consumer packaged goods, technology, healthcare, and retail.