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Resilience: Designing Today’s Workforce


Clementina Alegrett

Job and Carreer Coach in Berlin

Turning challenges into opportunities

One powerful phrase, “Think well, live well”, that I have adopted as my mantra, derives from Jo Owen’s brilliant book, “Resilience, 10 habits to thrive in life and work”. This book helped me understand that the quality of our thoughts will determine our reality. For that reason, cultivating positive thoughts helps us cope more easily with our daily affairs and improve our performance.

The origin of the word “resilience” comes from the mid-16th century Latin word resiliēns (from the verb resile) meaning “leaping back”. I started tackling the concept of resilience back in 2014 during my postgraduate studies in conflict resolution. Back then, I initially had no idea what resilience meant and it certainly wasn’t an active word in my vocabulary. Yet, the term did fascinate me.

Nowadays resilience is everywhere, but do we know what it means?

The term has widespread use across disciplines, industries and professions suggesting it is a fundamental concept. Resilience is related to the adaptability to change.

Psychologists describe resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, distress, tragedy, threats, trauma, losses or important sources of stress — such as those related to family, health, relationship, workplace and financial stress. Put simply, it is the ability to cope with and face up to the inevitable challenges and set-backs we encounter in the course of our lives. Metaphorically speaking, resilience has been associated with the expression “bouncing-back” which gives the idea of rising back up and continuing when we meet disappointment, failure and defeat.

We often react to circumstances in a certain way, because we have developed a habit that enables instinctive reactions to take place. These mental habits are deeply entrenched, and we do not realise that we have them, just as we do not have to think about how to breathe. However only some of these mental habits might serve us well — others do not. Therefore, it can be helpful to identify the reactions that help us or hinder us at certain moments. When people lack resilience, they tend to dwell on problems, feel victimised, overwhelmed or inclined to toxic coping mechanisms. Viktor Frankl states in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning ”: “between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response”. Regardless of the situation we find ourselves in, how we react is what really defines us.

In the past few years I have been curious to discover why some individuals are generally more at ease with whatever comes at them, whilst others struggle significantly more to overcome uncertainties. We see this discrepancy in the workplaces. There are many senior colleagues you have to follow but only a few that you really want to follow. Who wants to work with a negative colleague? Leaders that want to be followed know it pays to choose the path of optimism. Optimism is contagious. By optimism, in this context, I refer to the belief that you can make the future better.

I’ve come to the conclusion that mindset plays a relevant role in the ability of a person to bounce-back.

The main distinction between failure and success is as simple as the difference between giving up and keeping going. Throughout our education and upbringing we learn not to fail, thus we become fearful and lose the courage to try. We become truly risk-averse and some of us, much later in life, start changing this paradigm because we understand that success is only the result of recurrent failure.

What resilience does not do is make your problems disappear. However, it can provide you with the required strength to see past them. The exciting thing about resilience is that, like any other skill, with practice it can be learned by developing a variety of effective strategies that engender responsiveness to stress and reduce vulnerability. Moreover, in the workplace success relies on an individual’s capacity to cope and even thrive when faced with stress. Encouraging and developing personal resilience is an asset in the workplace and highly beneficial for our relationships and our life. Consequently we should cultivate practices that allow us to become more resilient.

Let me walk you through some strategies you can start implementing today to navigate your life more effectively by improving your resilience skills.

Begin shifting towards a more positive and constructive mindset by offering solutions, instead of focusing on the problem. When you take ownership of the problem, you drive yourself towards actions seeking the potential solution. In moments of hardship, stepping up rather than stepping back, makes you accountable, and will help build momentum to take solutions forward. Listening actively is a powerful form of flattery. It not only reassures the speaker that you value his or her time but is also a critical component of effective communication. It helps you understand the position of the other person — your colleague, your client — in order to reframe perspectives. Therefore, listen to communicate — not to answer.

Since we are change and risk averse, we tend to question foreign ideas as a usual response to altering factors. Enforcing positive response in our routines gives us the opportunity to look at benefits before pointing out and exploring concerns, which leads to an overall more constructive mindset. In addition to this, developing mental agility enables us to move forward in a fast and consistent manner, remaining calm in the face of hardship. Great players stay most productive during challenging times. Being proactive will help mitigate risks, turning challenges into opportunities. Lastly, nourishing relationships and promoting optimism among them, allows us not only to gather different perspectives and build empathy with our peers, but also establish a positive environment around yourself.

Optimism is key to creating resilience.

The power of optimism is something we tend to underestimate in our personal lives and work life. The first step towards learning to be optimistic is to realise that we always have a choice about how we feel. This mindset can be chosen deliberately as soon as we wake up every morning and challenge ourselves to carry this optimistic outlook throughout the day.

In the workplace, company culture is essential to promoting resilience. It shapes the basis for teams to build responsive solutions and it is the responsibility of every leader to create the right atmosphere for their team. Leaders facilitate the development of a positive work culture by consistently modelling these practices, leading by example in order to inspire it in others.

In order to build up the resilience of any team, it is worthwhile to conduct team resilience training, such as facilitated group sessions. The benefit of training for a team is that it helps the team members develop a common understanding, which strengthens cohesion and fosters a collegial atmosphere.

Building an organisational culture that inspires resilience just makes good business sense and companies with more resilient workforces experience an enormous advantage. By putting these strategies into place, a resilient organisation can be developed.

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash