I am waiting inside the large conference room; in front of me at least 15 rows of chairs, every seat is empty. It is 10 minutes past the official start of the workshop and nobody has yet showed up. The Firm hired my services to provide a non-mandatory resilience training to the sixty or so redundancies caused by the closure of a non strategic division. The venue is at a good distance from HQ, I guess by design. I slowly sip my tea; I try to calculate how long it takes from HQ to this fancy central London conference centre, I will give them another 10 minutes. I call HR, again, getting only their voicemail; I finally land on an assistant and ask “Did anybody sign up? do you expect someone to actually come?” she is not sure, maybe, some said they were interested, there is no actual sign-up procedure, nothing works anymore, she starts to moan “… only last week it was business as usual and now it is a madhouse in here …” I thank her and hang up.

I sigh and switch to coffee.

The call had come last week: am I available to travel to London and run an emergency resilience workshop for their redundancies? “The training is not mandatory, but it is part of the severance package so people will surely take it, just come over please, we count on you; we will arrange location and invites, you just show up and do what you can. Please?” When? I ask “This coming Monday.” Wow! Normally I would refuse, but I have worked with other divisions of this same Firm, I know them and they know me. Ok, let’s do it.

So here I am. My coffee is getting cold and I am getting bored. Presently I hear voices outside the door, then six people walk in; they take in the huge empty space and hesitantly make their way towards the third row, trying not to look at me. I pull up some chairs from the first row and invite them to come sit down in a small circle. Much better.

I start the workshop as usual; introductions (just names), check-in (how do you feel? “what do you think?” shocked, sad, terrified, angry? “all of it and then more!” of course), purpose (“the upcoming challenges of resetting our lives and finding new jobs will require a lot of energy, but right now energy is just being terribly depleted by the shock and the fear; so how can we prepare to rebuild it?” they look at me like if I come from planet Mars).

I know they are not yet ready to pour out their souls, but I know they want to, I actually believe they need it. Therefore I do not start with the actual training. I start by talking about resilience in general: I define it as the learnt ability to recuperate energy; I use the parallel of building physical resilience; I say that we need challenges in order to build strength. Eventually one spits out the expected cynical remark “so I should thank them for firing me, because I get the great opportunity to become more resilient!” the others attempt a bitter smile. Here we are, now they are ready. We have been together less than 20 minutes. Now the moment has come for them to be finally heard.

Incidentally, “being heard” is always the most neglected aspect of change management. Change, even positive change, is always unsettling; we need to talk it through, we need to feel heard and validated, before we are ready to move on. Instead, when changes are announced, most managers typically strive to provide lots of explanations; they justify, reassure, talk and talk and usually forget to ask and listen. When they are not allowed a space to channel their frustration and be heard, people go away feeling insignificant and irrelevant and continue to “ruminate inside”, negativity grows and spreads. Explaining and reassuring actually makes things worse.

So here we are, 20 minutes into the workshop and everyone is now “venting”. Everybody has a unique angle, worries for the just signed mortgage, uncertainties about job openings for seniors, mournings for the lost community of work, frustrations for being “just a number” in a mass action, concerns about futility of all past efforts and investments, anger for perceived mismanagement, and all the possible declinations of fear. I nod and make small comments like “of course”, “that is natural”. I take notes and promise to pass along the anonymised list to HQ. That seems to be appreciated.

It is now the moment to get to the actual building resilience training.

We look into the 4 types of energy that are currently being depleted by the distress and on how to replenish each of them.

  1. Physical Energy – a very underestimated aspect of building resilience during an unsettling change is to replenish our physical energy by correcting our posture. Recent studies show that slouching can induce stress, while a more straight posture with an open chest and more regular breathing can actually help feeling more energised.
  2. Mental Energy – when in distress we tend to fall into mental rumination, going on and on in our head about the unfairness of it all, or the inevitable uncertainties of the future; such unproductive thoughts do not lead anywhere other than in an escalation of more negative thoughts. This rumination creates an enormous fatigue and depletes our energy. Once we are aware of this, we can learn to catch ourselves and stop the rumination before it sets in and becomes a habit or, worse, a real depression. Recognising and accepting that rumination happens (no guilty feelings) and verbalising the worries with a friend or a coach (the “venting” mentioned above) can be of great help. Interrupting the thoughts by means of some “distractions” can also help keeping the rumination under control.
  3. Emotional Energy – it is inevitable to worry when facing a change, there are some reactions/emotions (anxiety, fear, doubt, surprise, frustration, uneasiness) that are simply automatic, i.e. they emerge unconsciously. We cannot prevent their insurgence, but we can recognise them, and not let them take over control of our behaviour. A rather simple way to “distance”ourselves from the emotion in order to gain control over it and direct it in a more constructive way is to practice some minutes of mindfulness: focus on the present moment, with all the 5 senses collecting impressions. We can do it in any moment of the day, also while doing some routine chores, e.g. driving or walking; focussing on what we are doing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching and seeing “in the moment” is a practice that greatly helps to reduce stress.
  4. Spiritual Energy – not necessarily intended in a religious sense, but rather as in “connecting with, or remembering, the greater picture, our life purpose, the legacy we want to leave behind and our values”; remembering all this can be a powerful help in refurbishing our energy. When things change around us we might feel irrelevant or insignificant; remembering who we are, what we believe in and how we bring life to life is the best antidote.

Now that we have gone through the theory and some exercises, I see that some of them start to look a lot more energised than when they came in. I know it is not just one workshop that will change it for them, but I also know that I have given them some tools to start to rebuild their future. Now it is up to them.

One of them however, suddenly has a burst of aggressive energy. “Yeah, all this sounds real nice, but I am the one who has to deal with all the consequences and it all sucks”. Clearly the earlier venting had not been sufficient, she needs to vent more. Presently she is embarking in a tirade about how not only she is losing her job, but even the generous severance package is actually ruining her life, artificially boosting her bank account, messing up with her divorce litigation, forcing her to commit to higher alimony, while the medium term prospect is to have no job … and her husband has been cheating … and it was with her best friend … and … and … and … Finally she stops and looks at us with a defiant face. I cannot help making a half serious comment; I say “You win”. She looks at first shocked, then defeated. Suddenly another participant intervenes “thanks, you just gave us a very clear demonstration of what we risk: we risk to get so deeply into the victim mode that we just continue to hurt ourselves; I for one do not want to continue to repeat to myself the entire list of my misfortunes; I want to look ahead”. This is when I really love my job!

The workshops comes to an end and everyone thanks me, except one.

Six months later I get an email from the participant who wanted to “look ahead”: she got a nice job after only three months, has relocated to a nicer place and knows that the others are having some promising interviews; they keep in contact and remind each other to keep up with the 4 exercises. Nobody has heard from the angry lady and her divorce, she has cut all contacts.

Building Resilience allows us to be better prepared to face the inevitable frustrations and the occasional despair that we all experience when faced with unexpected and unfamiliar situations, so that we can more quickly recover and “bounce back”. Resilient people develop  more flexibility,  higher energy,  sharper mental abilities,  increased optimism and significantly  improved wellbeing.

Do you want to attend one of our Resilience Workshops or organise one at your own venue? contact me at laura@grooa.dev-projects.tech

Do you want to get a taste of our methods? We arrange short two-hour workshops in the Eindhoven area, at our Grooa Inspiria Learning Center.

“My Resilience in Change”

SYTE – Resilience, August 22, 2018             Individual (35€/p)           Group (30€/p)

SYTE – Resilience, September 5, 2018           Individual (35€/p)           Group (30€/p)

SYTE – Resilience, September 26, 2018         Individual (35€/p)           Group (30€/p)

SYTE – Resilience, October 11, 2018              Individual (35€/p)           Group (30€/p)

(group = two people or more)

Workshop Content: 

Who can most benefit from this workshop:

–       Professionals who have just changed job / company

–       Professionals who are taking on additional responsibilities in their regular job

–       People Managers and HR professionals who wish to build their own resilience in order to best support others during periods of Change

–       Expatriates and Expatriate Spouses

To note: not recommended for people who are going through periods of depression or burn-out, who require more specific and in-depth treatment