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Keeping your enemies close ...

I was facilitating a workshop on #resilience the other day and it got me thinking about how it helps us beyond the day-to-day challenges of our work. We tend to think mostly of resilience as a skill that we apply to work overload, project derailments, organizational restructures and other operational upsets in our work lives. In other words, it's more a response to things rather than people.

But I suspect for many of us, one of the biggest benefits of developing resilience is in how it can improve our interpersonal interactions, and more specifically in dealing with our "enemies" in the workplace.

Some of the keys to developing resilience include goal clarity, proactivity, emotional regulation, optimism, and personal health and wellness. In workshops, participants are able to make connections to how working on these aspects can improve their attitudes and responses to task challenges, but not so much to interpersonal challenges. But I would argue that the latter can benefit just as much from improved resilience.

In my own development journey, I've become better at facing up to tough tasks through a mixture of approaches: perhaps reminding myself of the bigger goal or vision, taking a walk or exercise break, or utilizing support networks and trusted partners. Still I recognize that when I've seen a person as a challenge, I've reverted more frequently to avoidance rather than engagement. Many of us work in roles that require constant cross-functional collaboration, meaning that there are always multiple stakeholders to engage with, absorb input from, and build productive relationships with. With all the inherent human complexity that entails, alongside the complexity of the projects and tasks we're supposed to be collaborating on, it seems that avoidance of challenging people is the natural default. Perhaps because it's much more obvious if we avoid a task than if we avoid a person.

So what am I trying to do better? Well, in the simplest terms I am trying to reframe my response to be one of "step up" rather than "sneak past" when I recognize that I see an interpersonal challenge. What that means to me is not that different to task-focused resilience development. Doubling down on #emotionalintelligence is key (recognizing my own emotions so that I am better able to regulate, exploring what might be going on for others and engaging on that basis). Also reminding myself of the bigger vision, why that's important for that person and/or how they might contribute to it; and seeing the challenge as a pathway to growth, rather than framing it as an inhibitor.

Of course, the title of this article is misleading. Because in the situations where I have turned up to interpersonal or relationship challenges in a more resilient way, that person is more likely to become a productive collaborator (even if challenging), and we've probably both moved each other forward. Maybe not a new best friend, but definitely no longer an enemy.

For me, interpersonal resilience is a continuous challenge to move forward: from avoidance, through tolerance, to active engagement. I'll keep working on it.

[You can comment on this post on LinkedIn.]

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