We are frequently encouraged to focus on our strengths and "work on," that is, tamp down, our less sterling personality traits.

But just who gets to determine what your strength is and what your character flaws are? Other people?

Has anyone told you you’re obstinate? Or too blunt without any discretion? Or a chatterbox? Or opinionated? These "well-meaning" critics point out these damning personality flaws in the hopes that you’ll change and make their lives easier in getting along with you.

But frequently, the so-called flaw is simply an exaggeration of an asset: an obstinate person (bad) is a tenacious person (admirable) gone too far; a blunt person (i.e., hurtful) is a truth-teller (honest) with no inhibitions; a chatterbox (mindless fluff) is a communicative person (emotionally agile) on steroids, and the opinionated person (boor) is someone who knows his goals and is driven to reach them.

Perhaps it’s not you that needs to change, but your environment. That environment can be as intimate as a personal relationship or family, or a bigger culture such as workplace, your town, even your state or country.

What might be a “flaw” in one culture might be an asset when you move to a different environment (such as changing jobs). If you’re a person who thrives on conversation and connecting with other people, you can be characterized as irritating, needy, and intrusive if you’re in a culture where aloofness and independence is valued.

Conversely, that same willingness to connect with strangers can be a boon if you transfer to a culture where meaningful relationships and interdependency is valued.

An opinionated person who has no trouble bluntly voicing her ideas will be in constant trouble if she’s in an environment where the cultural norm is to dance around opinions cloaked in euphemisms. That same person would be highly regarded on a team that has no patience for timidity in speaking your mind.

When you diminish what others tell you are undesirable personality traits, you risk diminishing what would be a beneficial personality trait if you only moved to a different culture. Changing cultures can be as simple as changing jobs where the workplace culture is a better fit for your unique personality. Ideally, you should have heeded clues about the workplace culture when you interviewed for the job to assess whether the culture was a good fit.

Before you embark on a wholesale renovation of your personality based on what others tell you, analyze whether it’s you that needs to change, or you need to change the environment in which you live and work.