This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2019 Growth Through People campaign.
Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2019 this involves 15 free events, workshops and training sessions taking place between 25th February and 26th March, along with thought leadership videos and blog content such as this.
Thanks to our Sponsors – the University of Birmingham, Aston University, Curium Solutions and CIPD - all events are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more here.
Imagine you’re walking along the street and come face-to-face with a lion. Suddenly, your irritation about having just missed the train is gone. Every thought about the meeting you’re going to be a little late for is gone. The only thing you see or hear is the lion. Flooded with Adrenalin, your body is working out how to survive. Barely conscious of the process, you’re evaluating whether to run or fight. Almost instantly and without realising it, you’ve recognised you can’t out-run or out-fight the lion and you’re rooted to the spot.
Then you realise it’s not a lion, just a dog with a weird headpiece that makes it look like a lion, exactly like the pictures on the internet. Again without any conscious thought, your body’s systems return to normal. Your muscles relax, your breathing regulates and you start thinking again.
We need stress to survive, to function. Without it we might never get anything done. We all know people who need a deadline to complete a project. But too much is debilitating. Too much and we can become anxious or aggressive. We’re on hyper alert for the threat, ready to do what we need to do to survive. Little if any energy is going on the particularly tricky problem we have to solve for a client. We’re certainly not the spontaneous, creative individual with the potential to add real value to the business we could be.
We need to be able to de-stress to perform at our best. But some workplaces are stressful by definition. Work on a help desk and the pressure is always on to fix the problem. Deadlines are not going to go away. Work in PR and communication, as I have, and you know the news bulletin is going to be broadcast at 6pm so you have to respond in time or miss out. Having a space to go in the office can help. A manager taking the time to check on the team can make a difference. Telling staff to leave work at the office door may matter. But if these and related initiatives have any hint of lip service, they may be more damaging, ratcheting up the stress, not reducing it.
The golden egg is resilience. But what is it and how do you get it? I often hear people say resilience is about being able to bounce back from problems or challenges; that the people who immediately pick themselves up, brush themselves down and plough on are the resilient ones. Not in my experience. My work with clients suggests these people survive for a while, some for a long while, but eventually they hit the buffers. Creativity declines. Innovation declines. Performance declines.
Real resilience is hard won. It comes from acknowledging the impact of the experience or challenge and actively accessing the resources we need to respond. One of the most important resources an individual can draw on is their relationships and, in the workplace, a resilient team can offer real and valuable support. I don’t mean everyone in the team is your ‘best friend’, agrees with your point of view and offers sympathy. Members of a resilient team can be honest and straightforward with each other, can ‘own’ their perspective and experience, take the time to hear what is being said rather than what they imagine is being said and are interested in the perspective of the other even if they don’t agree with it. It’s in the positive, connected environment this approach creates that we can be resilient. We can acknowledge the stress, deal with it and return to our creative, collaborative and problem-solving selves.
I run training workshops to help individuals and teams build resilience into their day-to-day way of being. Contact me to find out more.
About the author
I have the unusual combination of psychotherapeutic training and nearly 30 years in PR and communication. My qualifications in include a First Class degree in Psychology, a Post Graduate Diploma in Integrative Psychotherapy and I am currently completing an MSc in Integrative Psychotherapy. Working in private practice in Kenilworth, I work with clients on issues including stress, depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties and trauma.
As a PR and communication specialist, my track record spans SMEs to global businesses in sectors as varied as professional services, engineering, transport, education and gardening.
Cathy Connan, psychotherapist and communication expert