Resilience Brings Out Our Personal and Workplace Best

Management thinker extraordinaire Adam Grant believes building resilience in children and adults is all about inspiring their inner strength by encouraging belief in personal value and worth.

It’s the old maxim that if you believe in people then perhaps they’ll believe in themselves, and by inference we’ll build a better world.  Grant, the renowned best-selling American author, top-ranked professor at Penn State University’s Wharton School of Business, and 36-year-old wunderkind, shared his thoughts on fostering resilience during an inspired interview at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Among Grant’s core messages is the notion that resilience ties directly to fostered personal strength and empathy towards doing for others, which in turn inspires a desire to “pay it forward.” He talked about resilience as a quality we often seek to instill in children – to help them be strong and successful in an increasingly challenging world. And resilience, said Grant, is built upon a set of emotional needs.

“At the heart of resilience is the feeling that you matter…a belief that my behavior matters to others,” Grant told an audience of approximately 800 students, faculty and others. “That others care about me and that people depend on me. That I contribute and I count!”

That’s where the magic of doing good begins. Inspiring those ideals for others brings out the best in people and it’s not a stretch to imagine that perhaps business cultures focused on this kind of thinking and practical application might likewise see the best brought out in them. Grant, in fact, spoke to the idea of compassion, caring and encouraging resiliency as the necessary tools for open and honest workplace dialogue.

“Most people are defensive in the face of mistakes,” Grant said. “But they need to learn (not to be).”

You need to eliminate the fear, and that happens when people feel it is “safe” to both speak up and to be open to critical feedback. He said fostering this sort of workplace thinking starts at the top when leaders are willing to share their own mistakes – to demonstrate they are open and vulnerable – and ask for feedback on their own performance. It shows you can take criticisms from others, Grant said, explaining he has long applied this principle in his own professional life.

Grant admitted that at one time he had a deep fear of public speaking. In addition to realizing he needed to simply practice as often as possible, Grant went a step further and began asking his audiences to evaluate and rate his performance – how he might improve, what they liked or didn’t about his speaking style and content. Grant would hand out questionnaires after every speech and lecture as a professor. Then he went a step beyond that.

“I’d take the feedback and share it with the students in my classes,” he said. “They turned into my coaches and taught me how to teach. They gave me feedback on the feedback. (From that) I learned what they wanted to learn.”

Grant made an insightful point on the “soft skills” of empathy and human creativity when he was asked by an audience member whether he believed people skills will become more important than ever in an evolving world of artificial intelligence and technology.

Absolutely, says Grant, who opined that these are the “skills of the future” and harder to develop. These are already increasing in importance for many companies, he added, suggesting you can’t automate soft skills, and who wants to hang artwork or listen to music created from AI?

We need to focus more on soft skills, particularly in schools, where North America lags European nations, Grant said. He cited the example of schoolrooms in Denmark that practice, “Klassen time” where children share their problems and feelings openly. Grant believes it nurtures empathy. “Why aren’t we doing that?” he asked.

Grant also touched on guiding principles and techniques for fostering personal resilience. He stressed the important of self-compassion, saying, “we’re usually good at showing compassion to others, but terrible at turning it inward.” We need to show ourselves the same kindness that we show to a friend, he said.

Grant shared other nuggets for self-improvement and building personal resiliency. A good tip, he said, is to write a letter to yourself, particularly when struggling with the aftermath of personal loss or tragedy.

We tend to suppress things when we go through tragedy or trauma, he said. And if you ask someone to re-connect with and write about that trauma or pain it might make them feel sick or worse – at least at first.

“Eventually they feel better,” Grant said. “People often forget how bad things were.” He added that ongoing journaling of the events and things we feel in our everyday lives may help us recognize the progress made in dealing with trauma and tragedy.

Another audience question was asked: How might you deal with someone’s resistance to “giving,” particularly in a workplace setting. Grant’s response: Don’t even try to convince them to be generous. Instead, encourage a focus on the team and perhaps ask them the question of who they might want on their team and why. Ask about the people they care about and the qualities those people exhibit. Through this line of thinking and expression, non-giving people literally talk themselves into the value of giving, Grant said.

“They will come to their own realization.”

Adam Grant will be the keynote speaker at the 2018 EHSQ Alliance Conference Executive Summit, happening in Austin, Texas on April 18. For more details go to:  

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About Dan McLean

Dan McLean is a senior content marketing manager for Intelex Technologies in Toronto, specializing in environment, health and safety (EHS) topics. He has been a journalist, market researcher, executive communications specialist and content marketer over his 30-plus year career in information technology.

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