The Many Faces of Character Strengths

Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. ~ Voltaire

Earlier this month I got together with several of my colleagues to share ideas about using the VIA Character Strengths at work. We talked about how acceptable the VIA Strengths are in business circles (in our experience, very), how people react to their VIA Strengths, and how we use them in our training.

We also shared examples of the ways in which we’ve seen the same strength displayed in different people. Take Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. Here are the stories of three people who have Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence among their top strengths.

Carole’s Story

Carole is a quietly confident 40-something stay-at-home mom with two kids. She comes across as pretty reserved and self-contained. When asked to talk about how Appreciation of Beauty shows up in her life, she immediately warms up with enthusiasm for her love of natural beauty, her sense of connection to the world around her, and her love of the great outdoors.


Nature Wallpaper

I’ve always felt more comfortable outside than I do indoors. I always wanted to be outside as a child, come rain or shine. I can remember, as a youngster,  the feeling of joy and wonder in my heart,  playing in the little wood at the end of my best friend’s garden, and my delight at seeing little woodland anemones, primroses and suchlike peeping up in the Spring, that earthy, leafy smell, and experiencing the seasons change.

When asked how Appreciation of Beauty shows up in her life now, she’s almost apologetic.  She describes the family’s weekend rambles in the countryside. She doesn’t just savor the fine views. She actively tends the countryside by picking up stray litter dropped by careless walkers or blown there by the wind.

I feel so in tune with nature that I feel compelled to look after it and keep it looking beautiful. My family thinks I’m mad but I actually enjoy it. It makes me feel I’m caring for the world.”

Mel’s Story

Mel surprised her family 20 years ago. When she finished her maths degree at a top university, she went straight into the antiques restoration business.

Looking back, it was a natural step for me and it fits perfectly with my strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. As a youngster I liked nothing better than scouring jumble sales for beautiful trinkets which I collected, cleaned, and displayed in my bedroom when my friends were talking about fashion, boys, and makeup.”



“My mother used to collect china figurines when I was small, and I can still picture them all – gazing at them in their glass cabinet because we weren’t allowed to touch. I remember the day I discovered the figurine of a dancer in a junk shop – it had a crack on one side. I felt that such a beautiful piece with such intricate detail shouldn’t be consigned to the junk – I just had to restore it. It wasn’t just the beauty of the piece, it was the recognition of the hours of work it took someone to make it and paint it. And that’s how it started. Since then I just haven’t looked back.”

Mel runs her own workshop specializing in restoring 18thcentury figurines, vases, and tableware.



Rachel’s Story

Rachel is a successful learning and development manager in a big consulting firm. She was initially surprised that Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence was one of her top VIA strengths until she discussed it with friends.

It’s funny how sometimes you can’t see what’s under your nose, but straightaway they all said ‘Just look at the job you do, and the way you do it!’ and of course they’re right. When I run L&D workshops, I’m full of energy and enthusiasm – I love making sure that I design them to look and feel exactly right. It gives me a real buzz making the whole thing come together. And I’m always noticing new role models, people who do X or Y really well – if they’re in the business I invite them to come and talk in my workshops! It’s true that I love seeing people be the best that they can be. If the work I do helps people excel, that’s really gratifying.” 


Have a Conversation

Strengths show up in different ways in different people. We just need to be alert to the different ways they can manifest. Discussing the VIA strengths with other people who have completed the VIA assessment is a great way of getting to know more about your own strengths and how they appear in your life, as well as finding out how they are for other people.


Three-way Conversation

To get the conversation going, and find out more about each other’s strengths’ profiles, you could ask some of the following questions:


  • When do you use ____________ [your strength of X]?
  • What does this strength give you, or what does it do for you?
  • How would your friends, family or colleagues recognize this strength in you?
  • In what areas of your life do you currently use ____________ [your strength of X]?
  • How do you feel when you use this strength?
  • How else could you use this strength that would be helpful to you?
  • What else do you notice or find interesting about your top strengths?
  • How do your strengths reflect who you really are?

Having facilitated these types of strengths-based conversations hundreds of times in training and coaching, with individuals and groups, I can highly recommend giving it a try. We invite you to post a comment below about how you get on.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles by Bridget Grenville-Cleave based on conversations she had recently with colleagues about using the VIA character strengths at work.

The second, Other Lenses on Strengths, describes the New Views Exercise introduced by Michelle C. Louis for helping people improve their strengths-spotting skills.



Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Niemiec, R. (2013). Mindfulness and Character Strengths. Hogrefe.


Nature Wallpaper courtesy of tiltti
China figurines courtesy of dumbledad
Have a conversation courtesy of svenwerk

This article was first posted here on Positive Psychology News on 31st January 2014

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