Personification Exercise: Try It On


Get yourself a pad and a paper for this exercise. Got it? Great. You can do this yourself and then if you are in a position that works with others, you can of course see how it works for your clients. While the exercise itself might take some thought and the benefits not immediately obvious, you should come to see that by completing it, you have a method to quickly articulate some of your best qualities when you need to most.

Make three headings on your sheet: Personality Traits, Strengths and Values. Under each heading write down the personal traits you have, your key strengths and some of your work or life values. If you are doing this as a work-related exercise, use work values; if it’s more of an all-encompassing life exercise, use some of your broader life values.

Okay, so now that you have some of these things on paper – and this requires some imagination on your part – see if you can come up with an inanimate object which encompasses some or most of what you’ve got on the paper. Of course the more items on the sheet of paper, the more difficult it might be to find something that hits every one.

In my own case, I ended up thinking of a lighthouse. A lighthouse to me shows others passages which move them from their current position to their destination. While the safest route is pointed out, so too are the impending dangers, but the lighthouse itself doesn’t have the power to make the ones it is guiding alter their path. It’s up to the people.

And so for me the lighthouse as symbol works for me in many regards. Being a beacon of hope for others; pointing out opportunities and potential hazards is something that I value tremendously in my job, but like the lighthouse, I can’t make those decisions for others, and nor would I want to. Oh sure from time to time my colleagues and I might say to each other, “If I could only get them to do what I want them to, things would be better.” But it’s not my life is it?

Okay so what’s the value in this as an exercise? Fair question. But first let me provide one other outcome. Suppose you ended up with a list and a fire station came to mind or even a bird’s nest. The fire station might work for you if you are in a job where you deal with people in crisis primarily, save lives through your work, while the bird’s nest comes to mind if you provide comforting shelter for others, a place of refuge and rest.

So, to answer the question posed. The value in the exercise comes when you are asked, and potentially the job interview is a good example of a time and place, to come up with your strengths, your values, or to share what motivates you, how you see yourself etc. Sometimes the best of us will either draw a blank, or share things which later we regret not because they were poor responses, but because they didn’t represent us at our best.

So if presented with any of the above types of questions, instead of remembering several key strengths, my work values and relevant personality traits; a list that could be 20 or more items long, all I really need to think of is the lighthouse. The image of the lighthouse then makes it easier for me to recall all the items I want to speak about, because of what I do that is like the lighthouse; the guiding, the navigating, standing firm in the face of much adversity, giving hope to others. I can also speak of others who in their darkest times seek me out for counsel and when times are good, I’m less needed.

By using an association with an object, some people may find they can better recall their best assets and qualities. So even in a situation where you meet someone for the first time, you might find out what it is they do for a living and then follow it up by asking them what they find most rewarding or challenging in their job. If that same question was then posed to you, you could come back to this exercise in your head and recall your central item and by association, speak confidently about your challenges and how your personal characteristics allow you to thrive in the position.

Did you notice the examples I gave; the lighthouse, birds nest and fire station all have a common thread running between them? There’s an element of refuge in all of them; either providing that themselves or ensuring others are sheltered safely. But it could be you choose something different like a traffic sign, a cross walk, a river or campfire. All of these images could mean different things for you than the person beside you. So you could choose the same thing but see if differently.

Look around you today. How are you like the stapler on your desk? What do you have in common with the rug on the floor that provides warmth, is often taken for granted but must be durable and resilient? Oops, may have just given a few things away there to get you started!

Like I said, try it out and see if it helps you or your clients to better recall, values, strengths, traits etc.

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