SMART Strengths Operating Together

“What’s your good news?” One of us, Dave, was sitting with a young lawyer and asked this to start the exercise. The young man responded, “We just finished a big arbitration, and I handled the expert witness.”

Green Light Responding 

We were in a mentoring training for a law firm (the SMART Strengths skills are widely applicable!) and this was a “Green Light Responding” practice, our name for Shelley Gable’s research on what she calls “active constructive responding.” We developed our name because the practice “green lights” the relationship; over time, those who respond this way help develop closer relationships with fewer conflicts and greater relationship satisfaction. See SMART Strengths, pp. 263-265. Green Light Responding means being active, authentic, and attuned when responding to another’s good news. You help them re-live the event, or as Dave’s farm background suggests, you help them “wallow” in it a bit!

Right Spotting

The participants in this event all should have had at least some good news to share because we had already practiced the skill of Right Spotting (p. 117). Like Green Light Responding, this skill has been researched repeatedly. It involves simply noticing what went right, the good things that happen, and paying attention to them in some focused way. One way to do this is to use a journal and at some set time each day, record thee things that went right, pleasurable events, or good things that happened to you. Then, write a sentence of reflection on why that event happened, what you or others did to cause it, or what you might do to have more such experiences in the future. The impact of this exercise for most folks is significant. It tips our minds out of the “negativity bias” rut we are all prone to and helps us begin to scan for what is right and good in our lives – a basic appreciative stance.

It wasn’t obvious from the young lawyer’s statement, “I handled the expert witness,” what was good about this, so Dave aked, “And it went well?” The young lawyer then explained that it was an important expert in a large case who was not easy to deal with. He had managed the relationship with this expert throughout – getting him the information he needed to prepare his expert opinion, preparing him for his testimony, etc. Green Light Responding drew out that the expert was known to be difficult to work with, and this young lawyer ‘s great job was noticed and acknowledged by the litigation team as a key contribution to the victory.

Spotting Character Strengths

After some Green Light Responding conversation on the details of this experience for the young lawyer, Dave asked, “Where is Forgiveness on your VIA list?” The participants, mentors and mentees, had taken the VIA in preparation for the training and a prior session had helped them explore their own strengths. Our definition for this strength is, ” Beliefs of being wronged often generate lower levels of anger or sadness; consideration of the needs and feelings of the other; able to give 2nd chances or move on.” Basically, this strength often shows up in behavior as a wide latitude for others. Sometimes, this character strength isn’t as much about “forgiving” as it is about just not being trespassed against in the first place. “Oh, that? That didn’t bother me.” The young lawyer smiled, lit up, and said, “Number 4!” This led to another exchange about how his Signature Strength of Forgiveness had helped him achieve this result. Of course, from a mentoring perspective, the lessons for the larger group was (1) to be watching for the manifestation of strengths in behaviors and (2) that thinking about differing strengths patterns can help when we are trying to be or to use role models. (The same can be true for teachers learning from each other!)

Practical Optimism

Notice that our discussion of this good event assigned a broad-acting, long-lasting cause for the good event – the young lawyer’s character strength of “Forgiveness.” In assigning such a cause and one where the young lawyer could continue to develop and deploy it in the future, we were developing a practically optimistic explanation for this event (SMART Strengths, Chapter 7) and one that would tend toward a Growth Mindset (Chapter 8).


Most of us have favorite SMART Strengths skills. Each skill, alone, is powerful and can help shape the trajectories of our lives and those we love and work with in more positive directions. But, there is also an added effect from these skills working together. With practice, we can become fluent at using the skills sequentially or in tandem to enhance the opportunities for positive results in our lives.

What’s your story? Can you think of a recent event that might have actually involved several of the SMART Strengths skills?

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