I was once in a symposium on “Mental Health in the Workplace” (as a delegate, not a patient :-), although some days it’s a fine line…) and I was struck by the simplicity of one definition of mental health: “Mental health is basically emotional and mental resilience – the ability to bounce back and regain your former shape emotionally and mentally, after a set-back”.
In the workplace, I have repeatedly observed senior managers succumb to stress and allow their behaviour towards colleagues and associates to change. This is a low to medium level lack of resilience. On a few occasions, though, I have seen people execute “career limiting moves” with great skill, as they drop their inhibitions totally and attack more senior employees out of an overflow of frustration. This can only be described as a high level lack of resilience!
When our internal stresses or issues are expressed in negative or destructive outward behaviour, it is definitely time to sit back and think. A lack of emotional resilience affects credibility and trust, and widens the gaps between colleagues in the workplace. It makes people unpredictable, and forces colleagues to spend precious time and energy choosing their words carefully. They also quickly find ways to work around the unpredictable person, because, well, “why would you allow a crucial part of a project to depend on someone you don’t feel you can fully trust, and can’t really relate to anymore?” Tellingly, I have seen individuals quietly ostracised from their social world at work because of this.
If we have broken trust and workplace collegiality through a lack of resilience, it is important to rebuild it. It is also important to understand why we lack resilience and what we can do about that. Often people are fine when the sailing is smooth but lack the capacity to stay on course when the waters get a bit choppy. Resilience can be affected by
- A fear that my competency has reached its limits and I will be exposed.
- Other (maybe personal) stresses that have consumed my emotional energy, and I am running on empty at work
- Legitimate (clinical) depression or anxiety
- A feeling of powerlessness – I am accountable, but I don’t have the authority to back up my accountability.
- Frustration at organisational incompetence and beaurocracy, or inadequate support to get the job done.
- A sense of having been betrayed – broken promises, whether around remuneration, promotion, etc.
The challenge is to work these out quickly and transparently. So often we allow small things – things that can be resolved quietly and independently, to have a flow-on effect into our working relationships and careers. There is nothing worse that realising we have painted ourselves into a corner for no good reason! We have let a small issue that could easily be solved, destroy our credibility and working relationships. Keeping a short account is an incredibly valuable discipline.
So, it is important to try and uncover the cause and quickly resolve it at the source. This can be as simple as a private decision, or it might require counselling, coaching, or other interventions. Primarily though, it will require honesty and a willingness to change. The courage comes when we have to speak to people about it, and ask for help, support, or even forgiveness. It’s not a crime to have a personal challenge. It’s not a crime to ask for help. In fact, as many will agree, acknowledging an issue, fronting up when we are accountable for a situation, and asking for help is the first and best step to rebuilding trust and credibility.
- Never blame someone else or try to lessen your role in a situation. It ruins the apology and destroys credibility. If you are going to do that, don’t bother starting the conversation.
- Be prepared for a negative reaction (not everyone handles these things perfectly!)
- Be genuinely sorry for the error. (If you are faking it or playing politics, see point 1 above)
- Know what you are going to do to fix things.
- If necessary, ask for help but without then making the other person responsible for your success/failure.
- Do it.