How to have a skills and strengths conversation

Over the next few months, many of us may be going back into our offices after a long time working from home.  Others of us may be exhausted by the sheer effort needed to survive the last year, and may not have huge amounts of energy for focusing on the ‘new’.  We may all be wondering what the future may bring, and how we will cope with it.

Here’s a conversation that every manager can have with their team as a group, or individually.  This conversation will help people reflect on the last year, help them think about what they have learnt, and make them feel confident to face the future, whatever happens.

We call it:

The Skills and Strengths conversation

Ask the three key questions at the heart of the conversation

  1. What are the skills you have most relied on and developed this year?

Explore how your colleague has coped.  Have they had to cope with enormous change, or been under pressure having been stuck in a repetitive environment?  What skills did they actually use?  Which of their skills did they develop?  What was the scale of improving their skills?   If your colleague feels that they have learned nothing in the last year, probe a little further – maybe they learned things they would rather not have learned?  Perhaps they have learned how to be accurate, or provide exactly the same quality of response to similar questions no matter how often they have to answer.


  1. Are you concerned that some skills may be rusting away?

Then encourage your colleague to reflect on skills they perhaps haven’t used so much in the last year.  Many customer service skills based on face-to-face contact will have been put in abeyance.  Meeting new people, finding an easy way to make informal conversation, putting people at their ease – all excellent business skills that will have been used less frequently this year.  Encourage your colleague to make a plan to re-develop these skills.  Make sure they understand they have your encouragement and support – rather than be scared of looking stupid for not doing something that they used to be able to do easily.


  1. Which of your strengths have got you through this year?

As well as skills, encourage your team to think about their strengths.  Maybe the last year has helped them play to their strengths, or maybe they have struggled to cope.  What got them through?  As part of this conversation, encourage them to see that the act of learning new skills to survive in the last year, shows that they have the ability to learn new skills for the future.  The capacity to learn new skills is a great strength.


Encourage Reflection Time…

Make sure your colleague has time to think about their answers.  Use simple questions to encourage genuine reflection on their skills and strengths, such as:

  • Tell me more about that?
  • How did that feel?



Offer motivational feedback

Offer a clear and positive message:

‘The skills and strengths that have got you through the last year should give you confidence that you can cope with whatever happens in future’.


This approach is about re-booting confidence in your colleague and reminding them that they already have what they need to cope with the future.  Their confidence comes from two places:

  1. Their own skills and strengths
  2. Your confidence in them that ‘rusty’ skills can be polished up, and new skills be learnt


You may be in a position to layout the future clearly, or you may not.  The point of the skills and strengths conversation is to engage and encourage your colleague to believe in their future success – no matter how uncertain everything may look right now.