Resilience – do we really get it?

We recently had the rare privilege of receiving a brief from a client that said, essentially, “our people have been through the ringer. They’ve had so much training around what we need from them – we want you do something different and we don’t want you to even call it ‘training’. We want you to put something together that is just about them – something that will help them in their work or even personal lives, but with no other ‘business objective’”.

Their people had been through enormous changes and challenges, and the program we put together was about helping them navigate change with greater self-awareness and choice, and less reactivity. The program went through everything from the stages of grief, different communications styles and managing fields of influence to mindfulness, neuroscience and the way our brains react to and process change. Essentially, the focus was resilience.

These days there’s a great deal of talk about resilience, particularly in the workplace. I often think the more forcefully the word is used, the less the speaker possibly understands what it really means.

Resilience is not about being ‘above’ human needs and vulnerabilities – true resilience thrives when a person knows how to go about understanding and meeting those needs and vulnerabilities in a functional, healthy way.

Often managers shy away from inviting discussion about problems in the workplace, and about people’s concerns, worries or even anger. The thinking is that by ‘going there’, we’ll open the floodgates and initiate a whinge-fest. “At the end of the day, we’ve got a job to get done, so there’s no point in opening a discussion about what’s not perfect – we’ll only raise false hopes that things might change.”

The fact is that human beings go through internal processes around change, and the only way to get past that is to go through it. If we don’t connect with and facilitate the process, we just get stuck – and that’s not good for the individual or the organisation. Typically, the way people best get through these processes is by sharing them with others.

We took our client’s agent and leadership team through experiential workshops to work through the human dynamics of change and to allow them to explore the ways they were being impacted by the pressures of their environment. The process normalised what they were feeling and allowed them to bring more of themselves to the workplace. Many of the issues were things that could be addressed, and many were not – but the mere chance to speak of their feelings and experiences and to hear others do so, allowed participants to connect with and then move past many issues.

Many participants impressed on us just how much they appreciated their employer investing in them in this way. The workshop told them – in a way no words could – that their experiences and feelings matter, and that their employer wants to see them thrive.

At the end of the process, only some of the environmental issues changed, but almost every person who worked in the environment changed and grew in some way.

Human beings are social animals. We are not made to ‘do it alone’.

Real resilience doesn’t come from the “suck it up, princess” attitude that sometimes prevails in workplaces. Real resilience comes from a sense of being valued and supported, and knowing that our experiences and feelings can be shared and honoured.

What I loved the most about our work at this client was hearing how the participants were enjoying using the approaches, insights and techniques they learnt not only to improve their work lives, but their personal lives.

Our client was delighted with the way their investment paid off in the workplace, and the magic of witnessing people grow and thrive when given the safety and support to do so reminded me why – and just how much – I love what I do.

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