There is a lot of talk about the words and phrases of 2020 having been ‘pivot’, ‘adapt’, ‘unprecedented’ or ‘you’re on mute…’. For me the word which everyone is talking about is ‘resilience’. I feel this is something that will grow even more prominent this year. In this blog I’m going to explore what it really means and why everyone is talking about resilience at the moment.

It’s such a broad topic though, so this blog will cover what resilience is and why it’s such a current topic. Next week follows up with support for large and small businesses, and tips on how to build personal resilience.

I work with a number of businesses, large and small, on their productivity, motivation and resilience and last year we dug deep to keep going. Ongoing uncertainty on a macro and micro level has created anxiety and a fear of the unknown for many. Maintaining the energy we’ve needed to keep going has been difficult. Adding on a mask of positivity and normality and it’s no wonder that we don’t always feel resilient.

Seeing strength where you don’t expect it

As we bed into 2021 and the various challenges that come along, I am often awe-struck about people’s resilience in all walks of life. This can be from dealing with sick relatives and the limitations on seeing them, to teaching pupils seamlessly online. Our healthcare and key workers have shown strength and humanity when I’m sure all they want is a reprieve. Although many may have hit rock bottom in different ways, they somehow find a way to grow and succeed.

So what is resilience?

Resilience isn’t something that we can always just pull from thin air. Your past experiences, thought processes and current situation will have a lot to do with it. Have you noticed that you’re on top of the world one day then overreact or want to hide from a situation the next day? That’s completely normal and especially now as we’re living and working very differently. Resilience is your ability to bounce back from, adapt to or learn from external factors.

If you’re not Tarzan, then it’s not working right?

Resilience is a word which is being hashtagged a lot at the moment. It can conjure up visions of beating your chest Tarzan style and being brave enough to take a dip in a frozen lake. But that’s not the norm for most people every day. In fact, it can be used as throwaway comment to staff such as ‘you should be more resilient’ rather than indicating to a leader that someone needs support.

This is when the term is used negatively and it transfers the problem to the employee who needs a bit of extra help, with a ‘well it sucks to be you’ attitude. That’s not to say that as adults, employees shouldn’t take personal responsibility but be mindful of the phraseology you use.

How to talk about resilience – and it’s not a case of “pull your socks up”

If someone is struggling, let’s focus on what can be done not what can’t.

There’s also a British awkwardness when talking about difficult subjects. Rather than sitting with someone (even metaphorically) and listening empathetically, it’s easier to gloss over the issue and keep a stiff upper lip.

It’s a greater gift to listen with empathy, hold a space for someone to share and just listen. That’s all you have to do sometimes. If your first response starts with “at least you’ve still got…X…” or “well so-and-so has it worse” then you’re immediately applying judgement and sympathy not empathy. Brene Brown demonstrates this brilliantly in this short video.

But what if you’re pouring from an empty cup too

I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you think about how you respond to a friend, colleague or client in crisis then you can change the dynamic of your relationship hugely. If you’re not feeling on top of the world, then you might not be able to take more on from others. This is perfectly valid and your best action is to go back to what you need to do to help with your own resilience and wellbeing.

And by being open with others, it’s also OK to say that you can’t take this on. Try saying “I’ve got so much on right now, I don’t think I can help you as much as you deserve” and see who else could help them. Perhaps you can share equally – a problem shared is a problem halved as long as it doesn’t overwhelm one person. Before sharing a problem with someone, ask them if they’re OK to listen – they might be at capacity too.

What’s next

Part 2 of this blog will follow and has a slightly different focus on why everyone is talking about resilience. It’ll explore what’s being done to support businesses and how individuals can build their resilience too.