Welcome to part two of my blog on building resilience in organisations. Last time I outlined my preferred way to understand resilience, as both a “capacity” and an “active process”. As a reminder, building resistance capacity is a preventative way to equip your organisation for coping positively against future stress and trauma. Whereas resilience, as an active process, is using learned behaviours and ways of thinking to enable us to deal with psychological stress in a positive way when it is actually happening around us in the moment.

Last time we looked more closely at the role the organisation might have on building resilience through communication, collaboration and social support. In this second part we will look at the responsibility the individual worker has to build resilience and then finally, in part three, we will look at the work itself as a shared responsibility between the worker and the organisation.

The Individual and Resilience

Our research has found that a large proportion of an organisation’s resilience is built upon the intrapersonal capabilities of the individual worker. An organisation can create a structure to foster resilience but to fully enact this it needs individual workers to build these skills prior to stressful and traumatic events. In this way the equipped worker will overcome these more often than those workers who are not prepared fully.

A majority of intrapersonal resilience comes from the relatively new area of Positive Psychology, launched by the American Psychology Association in 1999. It overlaps with work around mental wellbeing and clinical psychology around trauma. To develop intrapersonal resilience, you need to be able to understand yourself and your past exposure to events. Because of this, a lot of interventions are therefore based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques.

There are a large number of characteristics that can potentially build your resilience. In our research at Tap’d we have tried to collate these as much as possible to have the fewest areas of focus. The overview below is therefore not aimed to oversimplify an important subject but to try and put it into manageable chunks.

The first area of building resilience for the individual is to build your level of optimism to a predominant level when facing challenges. This manifests itself as a higher than average level of self-efficacy (or “can-do” mindset). To achieve this, you need to develop beliefs that you have a high chance of succeeding in things you put your mind to. In other words, you have confidence in your own abilities and you have the positive mindset to maintain this view even in adversity. Some studies argue that too much optimism is just as bad as low optimism and ignores risk and recommends a realism trait that could be more appropriate for a business environment. Either way, it is the confidence in the self in troubled times which is key to being resilient or not.

The second area is adaptability. This behaviour is formed on a belief that there is a need for continuous change in both work and outside of work and a level of justified change is good. This characteristic varies a fair amount within the innate personalities of individuals but is also can be enhanced as a learned behaviour. It is about having the capacity to adjust their own world and to be able to cope in new, emerging situations. It calls for the optimistic view that a situation will go well and to approach it with a flexible mindset. This creates a “virtuous circle” that change isn’t all that bad and can actually be good!

But how do you, as an individual, develop this positive mindset that is so important for resilience? Optimism and adaptability behaviours are reinforcing – the more things turn out OK after approaching potentially stressful situations positively, the more resolve you will have to stay optimistic and adaptable. The challenge is to kickstart this positive thinking. This is where the practice and art of reframing is so key to building intrapersonal resilience.

Reframing is key part of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Those who can become proficient in reframing often have, on average, more positive mental mindsets. It is being able to “step back” from a current stressful situation to be more objective or to look back at a past stressful situation and ask questions like “What if…?”. It is being curious and challenging the self to understand the real issue beyond the obvious. These are learned behaviours that allow the individual to see if taking different decisions or responding differently would have had a more positive outcome. Reframing is the ability to see past the emotions that were at play and also to question why those emotions were triggered in the self or in others. Another important behaviour for those who are skilled in reframing is to understand what the moments before the emotional trigger feel like so they can predict when undesirable emotions are approaching and deal with them.

You might have read the last paragraph and heard elements of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) concepts. Reframing around emotional triggers are part of most EQ models, just as EQ draws on other areas of positive psychology. Coaching is often a technique that is employed within organisations to help employees, usually managers, learn the art of reframing their past events to help them prepare for future challenging situations.

The fourth and final area of intrapersonal resilience is drive. This links again to the “can-do” self-efficacy level in the individual. It is the motivation to move forward. It is to have the belief in your own abilities and also to have the trust that other people and plans around you will support you. Using successful reframing, drive is about the expectation that they can master a current situation, based on past experiences. Having a sense of control in your job role can also support this drive. Line managers can support this area but encouraging individuals to focus on their goals and aid them with resources they may need to achieve them.

In summary, if an individual can learn, reflect and practice the four characteristics of optimism, adaptability, reframing and drive to a competent level they are more likely to be resilient to potential stressful or traumatic events that happen in (and indeed outside) the workplace. This then collectively comes together with teams and divisions of resilient and confident people in your organisation in times of flux and change, of which 2020 seems to be delivering on a weekly basis.

Next time, in part three of this building resilience blog, we will look finally at the work itself and see how the organisation and the individual worker have joint responsibilities here.