Strengths Coaching Blog

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Embrace the Skeptics

By Jennifer Robison

Strengths coaches may not appreciate skepticism in the workshop -- but skeptics provide a valuable service.

A strengths coach can find a skeptic in just about every group. The theories behind CliftonStrengths, both the philosophy and the assessment itself, could seem counterintuitive. They go against the grain of what most of us were taught -- that we should focus on our weaknesses to improve them, that getting better at what we’re good at is a waste of energy, that we can be great at anything if we just work hard enough. It isn’t what any of us are used to. Of course there will be a skeptic.

But skepticism hurts. Strengths coaches are passionate about CliftonStrengths. They invest a lot of themselves in learning about strengths and in coaching others. They’ve seen what a tremendous difference knowing and using strengths can make in a person’s life. When a neophyte challenges all that, it can feel oppositional, even hostile. If nothing else, addressing the highly dubious takes time and energy that the coach needs to devote to actual coaching. Skeptics are a bother.

Well ... maybe. According to Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach Adam Seaman, skeptics can provide an important service to strengths coaches. “I welcome skeptics,” he says. “I want people to raise questions, and I consider it my job to make the case for why CliftonStrengths is such a valuable and potent tool. If I can get [a skeptic] over the hump, then I can be confident that less-skeptical participants are also getting value.” 

Skeptics push coaches to dig deep. Hard questions require thoughtful answers, and thoughtful answers explain strengths. Winning over the toughest member of the audience is an effective way to convince everyone else. Furthermore, it’s likely that some or all workshop participants will have questions, even doubts, about what they’re learning. A skeptic will voice those doubts, offering the coach an opportunity to address them. 

“I refer to the Gallup Technical report for anyone who wants to understand the details of how it was created, its validity, and what it measures,” says Seaman. “Of course, most people in a group don't need all this, but I want to pre-empt any of the workshop participants who might derail the group.” If the coach addresses skepticism well, and with more information than the skeptics want, they’ll be satisfied. Even better, having put to rest any lingering doubts, all the participants are more likely to listen, remember and use what they learn.

Seaman once conducted a workshop for airplane pilots and mechanics who clearly didn’t want to be there. He had their Signature Theme Reports before the workshop began and as they filtered into the room, Seaman watched to see which of them appeared to be the “alpha,” the one the others deferred to. That participant happened to be quite outspokenly unconvinced. So Seaman used him as an example. With the man’s Signature Themes in hand, Seaman told him things about himself that rang profoundly true. “The alpha guy beamed with pride as I described my hypotheses at the things that mattered to him,” Seaman says. “As I was doing this, the other guys would make comments like, ‘That's so true!’ or tell a quick story that exemplified my observation.” Afterward, the group’s manager, whom Seaman calls the greatest skeptic of them all, emailed Seaman to thank him and say he intended to use CliftonStrengths in his employee evaluations.

It’s worth noting, some workshop participants may not actually be skeptical. Some are likely motivated by their innate talents, like Analytical, Learner or Intellection, themes that drive them to ask questions until their curiosity is satisfied. Such participants may not be oppositional, simply hungry to understand. Strengths coaches can use that to explain in real time and in real life how such themes compel people to seek answers.
Of course, those participants may also just be skeptics. Some people simply don’t see the validity or usefulness of CliftonStrengths. Those people can either be a thorn in a strengths coach’s side or a valuable teaching assistant. “When a skeptic can be brought into partnership, it really makes the workshop a better experience for everyone,” Seaman says. “Embrace the skeptics. They can really help you, and everyone else in the workshop.”

Adam Seaman is a Gallup Certified StrengthsFinder coach and runs his practice at

Jennifer Robison is a Gallup Senior Editor. A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Robison has written for various publications for almost 30 years. In the past 16 years, Robison has written and edited articles and books for Gallup Business Journal, and Gallup Press.

Jennifer’s top five strengths: Achiever | Ideation | Focus | Analytical | Competition

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