The Art of Playing to Our Strengths: Totem’s Guide to The Reflected Best Self

The Art of Playing to Our Strengths: Totem’s Guide to The Reflected Best Self

May 06, 2021Editorial Team

In this day and age, what does it mean to be extraordinary

To act extraordinarily

And how can we act extraordinarily at work? As managers and employers, how can we help our team members to be their best self?

The Reflected Best Self and Playing to Our Strengths

Everyone knows the expression, “playing to your strengths”. Albert Einstein once wrote in an essay, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Albert Einstein quote

Here at Totem, we believe acting extraordinarily simply means becoming aware of your strengths and resources. Consciously tapping in to your strengths. So that when facing a task, you use your natural strengths and resources. You choose how you engage in a task or project. Being conscious of your resources and your identity - it’s the art of playing to our strengths and the reflected best self!

But what about the people who have strengths and simply don’t know it? Those who have no clue what their greatest strength is or how to tap into that strength?

Mechanisms for Discovering Our Unique Strengths 

Here at Totem, we want to share with you two unique mechanisms that enable people to realise and become aware of their strengths. 

A-ha Moments 

The first mechanism is known as an “A-ha moment”. An A-ha moment simply refers to getting out of your comfort zone in order to discover your strengths. Trying something new, that you haven’t done before and aren’t well practiced at, only to realise that you have a natural aptitude for it - that’s it’s perhaps coming more easily to you than those around you. 

Find yourself saying...

“Hey, I am capable...” 

“I’m actually pretty good at this.”

“This is easy for me!”

Depending on your job, trying something new in the workplace might mean spending time with a different team, broadening your skillset, or volunteering for a new task. All of this should be possible if you are working in an autonomy supportive environment at a positive organization, both essential for optimum well being and performance at work. Find out more about this in our post all about Self Determination Theory (SDT), “Performance and Well-Being: Can They Live in Harmony?”.


The second mechanism is known as a “jolt”. When someone acknowledges your strengths or qualities you get what is often called a “jolt”. It’s touching. It’s moving. It has an impact on you and how you see yourself


“You’re so generous.”

”You’re so helpful.”


These are not and we repeat NOT enough. 

These comments are what are referred to as “tags”. Sure, they’re still compliments, but they don’t go deep, they are impersonal, general remarks so it’s easy for the receiver to simply shrug them off and forget about them, making no real impact. They are not moving.

Each of us, as individuals, have the power to make people realise what their best self is. 

Here at Totem, we are all about bringing out the best in people - helping them shine. Our company revolves around making people feel good. At Totem, we’ve developed our own feedback method, which is just as effective in our personal lives as at work. Our feedback method boosts your chances of giving someone a jolt.

the feel good team building game

The Positive Impactful Feedback method, otherwise known as the PIF, is central to everything we do here at Totem. The Positive Impactful Feedback method (PIF) turns feedback upside down. It makes people feel relieved. Let them know that they are enough and that they are making a positive contribution

Here is a quick outline of the method. 

Step One: Observation/Facts

State the facts, simply state what you saw or heard. State what occurred. 

Step Two: Strengths

What strengths were demonstrated? What is that person’s best self?

Step Three: Your Appreciation

Say aloud which positive emotions it generates in you - and what you appreciate about their identity, their strengths. 

These three steps will have an incredible impact on those around you, shining a light on the best self of everyone you meet. Once you start and see the changes that occur in those around you, there’s really no going back. This method can be a great asset or skill for anyone in a leadership role, and can be implemented immediately without any research or a practice exercise.

You can read more about the Positive Impactful Feedback Method (PIF) and Simon's story here, in our post One Feedback Method to Rule Them All.  If you often find yourself in the position of having to give feedback at work, I’m sure that you just as often find yourself wondering if it’s having any impact, if you're hitting the spot between compassion and guidance. If you have given feedback effectively, following our method, the person on the receiving end will be touched, moved, shaken up. However you describe it, they will have been given a “jolt” by the feedback source.

Research and Psychology

Beyond what we’re doing here at Totem, psychology researchers from both Harvard Business School and The University of Michigan Business School explain how it’s all about building or composing your “best self portrait”. In their research they define this as “a changing self-knowledge structure about who one is at one’s best”, in other words, changing our image of ourselves and our identity. Their study explores the significant effect of workplaces on our capacity for realising our potential, given that our best self is thought to be constructed from our most significant social interactions, many of those taking place at work

Feeling “alive, true to our deepest selves, and pursuing our full potential as human beings”, these extraordinary moments collectively form our idea of our best self. For some people this portrait develops naturally over time without giving it much thought. For others, it is largely influenced by our places of work and their role in setting goals, giving feedback and how teams work together. However it is formed, this portrait is a type of “anchor” for who we are and who we may become. 

The word “reflected” signifies how this portrait is built around how those around us who we interact with see us. Composing our RBS portrait is our key to becoming extraordinary, whether at home or at work. This theory builds on the founding themes of Positive Psychology, which focuses on human strengths, virtues and health, as opposed to focussing on overcoming or eliminating weaknesses in a work environment. 

This concept has been studied from other similar angles, self schemas, the ideal self, the hoped for possible self, they may have a common theme however the RBS stems wholeheartedly from past experiences and existing qualities, as opposed to desirable, potential or future qualities. Being true to yourself and authenticity are essential for a positive attitude, optimum well being and performance at work and in our personal lives. Rather than selecting the individual who is the “best” at something, the aim is to help each team member enter their “best” state, shifting the focus from performance evaluation, weakness and deficits. In the average work environment, extraordinary events may not occur very often in order to disrupt or redefine our reflected best self portrait. This is why we need to construct them, to seek out those A-ha moments or jolts as an action plan. Significant life events are also often a cause for reflection of the RBS, a milestone birthday, the birth of a child, a new job. Workplaces are able to effectively challenge our idea of RBS through job rotation or assigning us duties that go above and beyond our normal responsibilities and abilities, in other words, getting out of our comfort zone, and then receiving feedback on these new areas.  

Jolts can occur unexpectedly, for instance after an unscheduled absence of a colleague, an employee may take over their duties only to discover their aptitude for these tasks, covering for their colleague is sure to be met with appreciation and gratitude from the rest of the organization. This appreciation stimulates reflection and future actions through positive emotion. This type of appreciation for positive attributes can also result from formal events like award ceremonies, especially with recognition for specific examples from significant people in the company.  

Someone who is overwhelmed, overworked or overloaded (cognitively, emotionally, or physically) will not have the capacity to register and reflect on these jolts, signs of appreciation or extraordinary situations, in the same way someone with burnout doesn’t have the capacity to revise their RBS.

The message here is that managers and employers have the possibility to change how people view their own personality, strengths, skills and added value. 

Traditional HR management has focused on hiring the “best” individuals and identifying and eliminating weaknesses among existing employees. The RBS presents a new dimension for human resources management, constructing contexts that enable employees to develop their reflected best selves, building human capital through enhancing qualities, abilities, well being and performance. An organization that encourages and values employee development is far more likely to spark jolts and a-ha moments. 

Our RBS starts forming during childhood and continues developing throughout the rest of our lives. It is not a fixed form, there is capacity for continual revisions. This is where we expect that an individual will flourish, proactively determining who they are and what they do as well as their unique talents. There are some complex ideas and different perspectives on the best way to conduct a reflected best self exercise (RBS exercise), but in our eyes, it's simple.

Becoming extraordinary is as simple as pursuing potential. This process is ongoing and evolves over time, with no end point or final state. By focusing on this continual evolution into our reflected best selves, we can understand how to foster extraordinary contributions, enduring talents and optimal well being and performance in work environments.  

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