Increase Your Resilience in the Face of Change
|By Dr. Carol McCoy|
Have you ever been laid off from work or had to
deal with the possibility of losing your job? Ever
taken on new responsibilities that you weren't
sure you could handle? Ever been through a
merger where the company changed so
significantly you didn't feel like it was the same
place anymore? Ever been married or divorced?
Ever had children or inherited children through an extended family?
We deal with constant change in our daily lives. Resilience -- the ability to
bounce back and thrive during change -- may be the most important competency
of the 21st century. How can we become more resilient? There are ways to
develop this critical skill.
Think of the resilient people you have known. What were they like? My role
model for resilience was my grandmother, Connie, who lived to be just shy of
99. She had a wonderful sense of humor and perspective. Whenever people
complained about a terrible storm, she would say, "It wasn't as bad as the
blizzard of 1888."
She appreciated her life even though when she was in her 90's her husband of 60
years and nearly all her friends had passed away. In spite of these losses, when
people asked her how she was, she would answer, "Not bad, when you
consider the alternative." Sometimes she would apologize for not being
"scintillating". With her optimism and humor, she couldn't help but scintillate.
Daryl Conner has studied resilient people, and found that they have five key
characteristics. The first is a positive outlook, which includes both an optimistic
view of the world as well a positive view of oneself. The Chinese symbol for
“crisis” includes the symbols for both “opportunity” and “danger.” People who
can see the opportunities in any situation are able to appreciate the positive
aspects of any change and to make the best of a situation.
My world as a consultant is exciting and unpredictable. The loss of a possible
assignment is offset by the possibility of other desirable activities. Positive view
of oneself refers to the confidence that you can get through change, challenge,
and unknown situations. Every one of us has had to deal with change in one way
or another. Learning to appreciate your own strengths and developing additional
ones are keys to a positive self-concept.
The second characteristic is focus. People who know their own values and goals
can maintain a constant focus on what's important to them despite the swirl of
constant change around them. Focusing on your own values serves as an
important anchor in a sea of uncertainty.
A colleague of mine who decided to change her career to psychology after
reaching 50 provides a great example of this. While working full-time at a
high-powered job in Portland, she commuted to a college in Boston to pursue
her master’s. Despite the grueling commute and demanding schedule, she
completed her degree in 14 months. Afterwards, she marveled at her
accomplishment given all the challenge and all the change.
A third quality is being flexible, both in terms of your thinking and your ability to
deal with a variety of people. When faced with obstacles, do you look at a range
of approaches you can take, do you insist on your own way, or do you give up
at the first sign of serious difficulty?
There are many ways to increase your flexibility. One of the best ways is to learn
new skills that are completely different from the ones you possess now. For
those of us who are "left-brained" and somewhat analytical, we can learn a lot
from "right-brained" activities. For example, learning to sky dive, do t’ai chi,
cook, paint, act, or play a musical instrument can help give you a deeper
appreciation for intuitive solutions.
Another part of flexibility is the ability to deal with people who are not like you
and the ability to draw on a wide social network of people for support during
challenging times. Do you welcome new people into your group or are you
suspicious of newcomers who have different ideas? Learning to appreciate the
strengths of people who are not like you can help you cope with change.
Every group benefits from having diverse individuals, or it can easily suffer from
"group think.” All groups need to have people, who see the big picture and those
who notice the details, those who readily speak their minds and those who
reflect before speaking, those who want to explore issues fully and those who
want to reach closure.
Taking a workshop on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can help you learn to
understand your style and how to work with those with different preferences.
A fourth characteristic of resilient people is the ability to remain organized in the
face of ambiguity. We never have all the information about any change, even if
we are senior managers. Yet there are always constructive actions that we can
take despite incomplete information.
For example, if you learn that your company may experience layoffs you can
help to prepare yourself. Keep your resume up to date. Check the company's
job postings or look on the web for job opportunities. See a career counselor.
Start to network with other people. Learn about other jobs that might be
interesting to you.
The final characteristic is being proactive, embracing a change versus defending
against it. Our natural tendency when change is thrust upon us is to try to
preserve the status quo. Yet the more we put energy into resisting a change, the
less energy we have to make positive things happen.
How can you identify the potential opportunities within the change? What are
ways that you can influence the change positively? Who can you ask to find out
about the change? Are there still decisions that you can influence? Can you
volunteer to be on various committees which lead the change?
Spencer Johnson's little book “Who Moved My Cheese?” provides a powerful
allegory that describes how we respond to change. If someone has moved your
cheese, you need to move to where there is new cheese, not look in the place
where the cheese used to be.
Dr. Carol P. McCoy is president of McCoy Training and Development
Resources, a consulting firm in Falmouth, Maine. The mission of MTDR is
to help individuals and organizations find solutions that help them meet
their goals by increasing their effectiveness and resilience in a constantly
changing world. She serves clients throughout the Northeast.