Contributed Column

The Manager's Corner

by Emily Morrow

Resilience and self-management

Resilience is the ability to adapt to stress and adversity by facing difficult experiences and rising above them with relative ease. Typically, patterns of self-encouragement are vital to resilience; if we have had positive experiences that we actively remember, such memories can sustain us when we experience difficulties.

Although resilience is critical, it may not alone be sufficient. In fact, in some cases, just being resilient can present to others as an odd sort of passivity. One just keeps showing up and taking on more burdens, without necessarily changing the situation. When resilience is not enough, self-management skills can be critical.

Self-management skills have to do with how one chooses to behave. If resilience is a state of mind, then self-management behavior is its external manifestation. Resilience is the portion of the “iceberg” below the water level, whereas behavior is the part above the waterline that others experience. Optimal self-management skills are particularly critical in stressful workplace environments.

Consider the following framework in choosing how to manage yourself at work:

• There is only one person over whose behavior you have complete control: yourself.

• If you change how you manage yourself, others will likely also change their behavior accordingly. If you enhance your self-management skills, other people’s behavior will improve. The reverse is also true.

• Determine the critical, non-negotiable factors you need to do your best work.

• Ask which of these factors are currently present and which are absent in your workplace.

• Resolve to change your behavior so you influence your colleagues to change theirs in ways that will better support your success at work.

Consider Sue who had some problems with her manager, John. Also, her interactions with her co-worker Bill were less than ideal. She decided to focus first on her professional relationship with John. If she could enhance that, it might also improve her interactions with Bill.

Sue likes some structure, being given timely feedback about her work, having projects rather than tasks delegated to her, and receiving some praise as well as constructive criticism, none of which John was providing. She initiated a conversation with him in which she stated her desire to do her best work for him, and then made some suggestions about how they might better collaborate. Sue didn’t tell John what to do, but did provide him with helpful information about her work style preferences. The discussion went well. Sue realized that although she reports to John, she has a responsibility to manage her manager to some extent.

Bill, Sue’s colleague, frequently criticizes her, undercuts her work and elevates himself at her expense. Sue decided that when Bill acted in this way, she would speak directly with him about it and hold him accountable for his behavior. She also decided that when Bill criticized her, she would not respond in kind and would focus instead on her own success.

Sue acted accordingly and noticed Bill was becoming more collaborative. This, along with Sue’s enhanced communication with John was a successful combination. Although there will always be some friction between Bill and Sue, she feels more fully respected and appreciated at work. Sue’s attitude and level of engagement have greatly improved.

By modifying how she manages herself at work, Sue began modeling behavior that can enhance the overall functioning of her team, and perhaps her office as a whole. This is predictable. When one person in a human system chooses to act in a more responsible, productive, accountable, and collaborative manner, others tend to follow suit.

Both “good” and “bad” behavior are contagious. Being aware of this contagion is the first step. Making realistic, well-considered choices is the next step. Behavior/self-management is where the rubber hits the road. One never “arrives,” but can always progress in the right direction. •

Emily Morrow, JD, ( of Shelburne and Auckland, New Zealand, provides tailored consulting services to business owners, professional practice firms, executives, and HR personnel.

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