Balconies & Basements: The Two Sides To All Strengths

When I first started at my current job, my company had us do an activity to help identify our strengths. While the assessment itself was insightful, what most stuck with my was an analogy used to demonstrate how there can be two vastly different interpretations of the same character trait.

The idea is that there are two views of the same strength that a person may posses– a “Balcony” and a “Basement” view. Depending on the point of view, the context, and the interpretation of the viewer, they can paint a completely different picture — much like a balcony and a basement look quite different. One view can be positive (the balcony) while the other (the basement), can be the complete opposite. But both views aren’t wrong per se. But it all comes down to perspective.

Note: I did not come up with the analogy, I am simply sharing a few examples. The credit goes to The Gallup Organization & their Clifton StrengthsFinder evaluation. Very interesting stuff, check them out for more!

Balconies & Basements

The idea of Balconies & Basements is best described by taking a look at some examples. I’ve picked a few qualities, but the same thought process can apply to just about any character trait or strength you can think of.

Let’s say a person considers their strengths to be the following — adaptable, consistent, disciplined, focused, positive, confident, and independent. What does this all mean to you? How would you describe this person in your own words?

Now if we look at synonyms or definitions of the traits, we get the following list. Notice how the same trait can be described using both positive and negative extremes. The Balcony describes a positive view of a strength, while the Basement describes a negative one.

  • Adaptable:
    • Balcony: flexible, comfortable in times of change, easy to get along with, go with the flow
    • Basement: directionless, indecisive, sheep, inconclusive, whimsical
  • Consistent:
    • Balcony: steady, persistent, dependable, regular, reliable
    • Basement: “by the book”, inflexible, invariable, same, unchanging, boring
  • Disciplined
    • Balcony: highly productive, structured, great planner, efficient
    • Basement: overbearing, rigid, mechanized, can’t handle change
  • Focused:
    • Balcony: disciplined, purposeful, precise, identifies important areas of value quickly, goal setter/getter
    • Basement: absorbed, tough to relax, intense, stressed
  • Positive:
    • Balcony: enthusiastic, lighthearted, energetic, optimistic, generous with praise
    • Basement: insincere, naïve, superficial
  • Confident:
    • Balcony: strong inner compass, risk taker, self-confident, assertive
    • Basement: arrogant, cocky, self-righteous, over confident, stubborn
  • Independent:
    • Balcony: free, liberated, unconstrained, self-sufficient, headstrong, autonomous
    • Basement: lonely, selfish, unattached, superior or snobbish

Can you think of a time where you’ve defined your strength in one way — let’s say confidence — but someone else has labeled it with a more negative term? Or vice-versa?

Language matters and interpretations are relative.

The Takeaway

As you can see, there are two sides to every coin.

Depending on your perspective and how you choose to look at it, you can arrive at two vastly different conclusions.

Context matters.

Interpretation matters.

You may see your strengths one way, yet others might try to characterize you in a different light.

You can’t please everyone. So you can’t and shouldn’t devote too much of your time trying to show others your perspective.

What matters is that you know yourself. You own your strengths. You get to define define them in the light that is aligned with YOU. Choose the balcony over the basement.

And if you’re not feeling too confident in yourself & your strengths, remember:

It’s all about how you frame it — and that goes for how you frame it when speaking to yourself too.

Are you describing your qualities as a basement when they could be a balcony? Pay attention to the words that you use. There is often a more powerful, positive interpretation. It’s just a matter of training yourself to recognize that and believe it.

You have the ability to define your strengths. And you have the ability to reframe your own insecurities into strengths.

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