Developing resilience

Becoming more resilient is about achieving higher levels of performance through managing the pressure of work better. Managing resilience is a positive, constructive aspect of performance. Resilience is the way you choose to respond to something that could be potentially traumatic and ensuring it is not. Resilience arises from self awareness, the right mindset and developing the right habits focused on clear business objectives that are in line with personal capability. If stress management is about helping people cope when things have all got a bit too much, resilience is about enabling people to do more because they are better able to manage themselves and those around them.

It’s like surfing a wave

Resilience is like surfing a wave. At first we struggle to surf the smaller waves. Sometimes when we fall off the wave we are overwhelmed by the power of the water. Coughing and spluttering we contemplate the next wave. Over time, we learn how to surf ever bigger waves and learn to cope much better when we get wiped out. Eventually our experience means we can surf big waves and choose when to end the ride to minimise the struggle to get the next ride. Those without any experience of surfing watch people surf the biggest waves in awe at the huge power and potential danger. For the surfer, they have learned how to cope with the pressure and to manage the risk and rather than fear, they are fuelled by the buzz of the ride. In the same way, some people seem to cope with incredible levels of pressure and stress because they have learned over time to manage themselves effectively and instead of getting over-stressed, are able to enjoy the buzz of a challenging workload / situation.

But how?

But how do we become more resilient? At a very practical level, if being resilient means choosing the right response to a set of events, then the first thing is to identify a trigger or a sign that helps you to acknowledge that a different response is required. For example, my daughter tells me she knows when I am getting angry as I remove my spectacles as a precursor to a more forceful contribution to the conversation. Removing the glasses is an example of a trigger that I can learn to notice in order to deploy an alternative approach that’s likely to get me a better outcome from the conversation. Recognising that under pressure we default to our habits, learning how to have the right habits means no matter what the pressure, we end up doing the right thing. Habits describe a very specific set of behavioural responses triggered by a cue rather than the need for logical thought. Thus, it helps to understand the processes that are taking place in the body and the brain that drive our behaviour. Understanding the changes that take place in the body and mind in response to a potentially stressful situation helps us appreciate why our choice of response is so critical. This article provides some fascinating insights into how our emotions affect the way we see things.

More than ‘me’

From a managerial perspective, learning to recognise the signs in others of when they are beginning to struggle under pressure means that we can step in and help them regain control in order to ‘surf the wave’ of productivity. Resilience is a team thing – it’s not just the individual’s job or that of their manager. A whole team looking out for each other and working on developing resilience together is a virtuous spiral that benefits everyone. It means someone struggling is less likely to slide under the radar.

Resilience is about more than the individual. It’s also about the context in which they are working. A detailed-oriented, logically thinking, numerically literate introvert will be happier buried in a spreadsheet than an extroverted, people-oriented creative individual. Ensuring your round pegs are in round holes goes a long way to helping people cope with the pressure of work. A robust and resilient team is a group of people who are doing what they are best at doing and working well together. It’s linked to the principles of employee engagement. This means helping ensure people have a clear understanding of the strategy and how what they do adds value, is meaningful and contributes to achieving that strategy. This is in addition to feeling valued and having the opportunity for personal development.


Developing your people

If you are looking at developing resilience in others, this checklist for a one-day programme provides a useful starting point. From our experience delegates find it useful, applicable and reassuring.

We recommend teaching people

  • What resilience is (and is not)
  • The nature and impact on the individual of the increase in pressure at work
  • How to spot in others when they are struggling to cope
  • Management factors that can affect the level of pressure people are experiencing
  • How to utilise a team approach to developing overall levels of resilience
  • How to habitualise high performance
  • How elite performers develop resilience to cope with extreme challenges
  • Developing your own ‘Cabinet’ of advisers to help sense check your thinking
  • Understanding the hot cold empathy gap and its role in resilience
  • Establishing lines in the sand – putting yourself in control

We suggest

  • Using case studies to determine how best to manage the situation to optimise performance of those involved
  • Applying the learning to:
    • Themselves – very practical things people can do, making it a habit
    • Their team – watching, noticing and responding
    • The work – making sure the right people are doing the right things
    • Those around them – applying principles of engagement

Does it work?

Yes. We have worked with a number of companies to provide one day resilience workshops to get people started. These have met with much success.

We know because we have applied the lessons we have learned to ourselves. At Epiphanies, we not only provide experiential learning, we learn experientially. This year, Dominic Irvine, one of the partners, completed the gruelling Tour Divide, a 2,725 mile off-road unsupported mountain bike race that stretches from the Mexican border to Banff following the line of the Continental Divide over the top of the Rockies. Despite a quite frankly ridiculous number of setbacks, Dom finished as first Northbound Rider. You can read his somewhat harrowing exploits here. This experience builds on his achievements as a record breaking ultra-distance cyclist, and his research towards his PhD exploring mental fatigue.