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The Paradox of Showing Weakness in Business


Robby

We all have weaknesses. We all have bad days, rough spots and problems. But it seems like the usual business advice is that you don’t admit weakness. David Sandler says “A winner has alternatives, but a loser puts all his eggs in one basket.”

People say that crying at work is a sign of weakness, not business acumen. Writers like  Marcus Buckingham says we should “focus on our strengths.” But there’s something else about weakness: it can be a sign of loyalty and specialization. Think of the colleague that says, “That’s not really my area. I’m glad you have it covered.”

Not too long ago, I was visiting with some people looking for jobs in Indianapolis and they were talking about the classic interview question “What is your greatest weakness?”

Each one had a different stock answer to offer, such as:

  • My greatest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist. I just love to do things right!
  • I tend to work too hard and put in too many hours.
  • I sometimes take over the leadership role in a project, even if it hasn’t been assigned to me.
  • I tend to be a positive person, so I don’t think about negative consequences often enough.

All of these answers have some merit, but they all tend to avoid showing weakness. What about starting out with a response that embraces the reality of failure?

I’m glad you asked that question. We do spend a great deal of time in business and in interviews like this one stressing the positive. But the truth is we all have strengths and weaknesses, and in order for a team to function effectively people need to know the landscape so they can support each other appropriately.

Showing weakness at a job interview or in a meeting might seem like a terrible idea. But actually, it makes us more human. It ensures the interactions at work will be humane and reasonable. And if people can’t deal with the reality that you are not perfect, that’s a good sign you should be working elsewhere.

Bonus: My favorite answer to the question “What is your greatest weakness?” “My greatest weakness is that don’t have much patience for standard interview questions that that have been asked a million times. I think we need to focus on being innovative rather than being repetitive. So I suppose my greatest weakness is that I speak my mind, which isn’t always in my short-term best interest.”

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About the Blogger: Robby Slaughter is a productivity speaker and expert. He is a principal with a AccelaWork, an Indianapolis consulting firm.

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Sat, April 7 2012 » Corporate Culture, Success Consciousness

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