The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for Positive Realists

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Positive realists have a positive attitude, but they are also good at reading reality. They demonstrate this quality in the specific activity in which they excel. They may be encouraging people, playing a sport, fixing a technical problem, tackling a challenge or whatever.

Such people aim to build on people’s strengths, but they also want to know the truth. They focus on what is happening and the real results to achieve. This enables them to make better quality decisions and achieve the goals.

They subscribe to the belief articulated by the psychologist Carl Rogers. He believed that: “The facts are friendly.” It is vital to get the heart of the matter and see what is really happening.

Carl said that we should welcome information, even if the new evidence shows that our previous views were mistaken. Positive realists are brave enough to face reality and see what can be done to achieve success.

Going into the challenging situation, they quickly see what is actually happening. Staying calm, they then use their ability to take the following steps.

They clarify the real results to achieve – the picture of success.

They build on the positive things in the situation – such as people’s strengths and successful patterns – and also find positive solutions to the challenges. 

They apply their skills to get positive results and achieve the picture of success.

Looking back on your life, can you think of a situation when you acted like a positive realist? You may have been recovering from a setback, dealing with an illness, managing a crisis, tackling a challenge or whatever.

What did you do to remain positive but realistic? How did you clarify the results to achieve? How did you settle on your chosen strategy? How did you then do your best to achieve the desired results?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in your personal or professional life when you acted like a positive realist. 

Describe the specific things you did then to act like a positive realist.

Describe the specific things that happened as result of taking these steps.

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Al Siebert, author of The Survivor Personality, spent over 50 years studying how people deal with tough challenges. Such people were often positive realists. 

A paratrooper in the 1950s, Al remembered meeting the few remaining survivors from the 11th Airborne Division, a unit that had served in WWII and Korea.

Something about them made him sit up and take notice. They weren’t the gung-ho types; they had unusual qualities. He wrote:

“During our training I noticed that combat survivors have a type of personal radar always on scan.

“Anything that happens, or any noise draws a quick, brief look. They have a relaxed awareness.

“I began to realise it wasn’t just luck or fate that these were the few who came back alive. Something about them as people had tipped the scales in their favour.”

He decided to study life’s survivors – those who grew when overcoming tough challenges. Al found that such people chose to have a positive attitude and took responsibility. He wrote:

“The survivor way of orientating to a crisis is to feel fully and totally responsible for making things work out well.”

They quickly read the new reality and start considering the consequences. Other people ignore what is happening or bury their heads in the sand. Survivors click into awareness mode and take snapshots of what is actually happening.

Such people stay calm. Why? They realise it is vital to establish clarity. They must clarify what is happening and then make decisions about the way forward.

Al gives examples of hijack survivors who stay calm. They gather information about how the hijackers behave, look for patterns and explore potential exits – not only for themselves, but also for other people.

Positive realists follow a similar pattern. Going into the situation in which they excel, they gather information about what is happening. Clarifying the real results to achieve, they clarify the strategy for achieving the goals.

Imagine that such a person is helping a team to achieve a specific goal. They often ask:

“Bearing in mind the goals to achieve, what are the key strategies people can follow to give themselves the greatest chance of success?”

Sometimes they go straight to the answers. Sometimes, however, they take the following steps before settling on the strategy.

They aim to build on the
positive things in the situation

One approach is to identify any positive things that are happening. Sometimes these can be hard to find, but it is important to build on these strengths. When working with a team, for example, they may ask some of the following questions.

What are people’s strengths? What are their assets? What are people doing well? How can they do more of these things in the future?

What are people’s successful patterns? When have they performed brilliantly in the past? What did they do right then? What were the principles they followed? How can they follow these principles in the future?

How can people build on their strengths? How can they follow their successful patterns? What other skills do they need to add to help them to achieve success? 

They aim to find positive
solutions in the situation

Positive realists then move on to the next step. Imagine they are helping a team to achieve a specific goal. They may then ask some of the following questions to focus on clarity, creativity and concrete results.

Clarity 

What are the real results to achieve? What is the picture of success? What will be happening that will show people have achieved the goals?

Creativity 

What are the things the team can control? What are the potential options for going forward? What are the consequences – the pluses and minuses – of each option? On a scale 0-10, what is the attractiveness of each option?

How can people use their strengths to reach their goals? How can they manage the consequences of their weaknesses? Are there any other creative options they can use to reach the goals?

Concrete Results

Let’s return to the real results to achieve. What are the key strategies people can follow to give themselves the greatest chance of success?

How can they translate these strategies into a clear action plan? What are the specific things that must be delivered by when on the road to achieving success?

How can people co-ordinate their strengths to achieve the goals? What are the other practical tasks that will be left over? How can people make sure these practical are completed?

What will each person do towards achieving the goals? How can people make clear contracts about their contributions? How can they keep others informed about their progress towards achieving the goals?

What is the specific action plan? How can people get some early successes? What else can the team do to increase the chances of success?

They aim to get
positive results

Positive realists move into action. They often start by getting some quick successes. They then follow the key strategies for achieving the picture of success.

Al Siebert found that survivors are savvy and choose their strategies from a wide repertoire of options. This enables them to read situations, call on their experience and make decisions.

They translate the strategies into action, but they also keep reading reality. They keep focusing on: a) The things that are working; b) The things they can do better and how.

Positive realists are committed to constant improvement. They keep working hard and do whatever is required to achieve the picture of success.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking to the future, can you think of a situation in which you may want to act like a positive realist?

This could be in your personal or professional life. You may want to behave in this way when making a transition, setting up a business, leading an organisation or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to act like a positive realist.

Describe the specific things you can do then to act like a positive realist.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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