In this extract from A Mind for Business, author Andy Gibson explores how you can build and utilise resources to effectively manage stress while also realising their potential to lend assistance to colleagues who find themselves in difficult situations
When people talk about ‘resilience’ they usually mean people’s ability to handle pressure. Given how our minds actually respond to pressure though, perhaps a better term for this might be ‘resourcefulness’.
Resourcefulness is the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties. It is a quality we can all aspire to have, and one from which businesses can clearly benefit. When businesses need to increase profits with fewer people and hit the same targets with less time and money, we need to be increasingly resourceful to survive.
The advantage of promoting resourcefulness is that it makes no judgment about how people should feel, but simply asks them to deploy their resources effectively to get things done. Rather than aspiring to be less sensitive or emotionally affected by setbacks, we can focus on how to protect and deploy our resources more effectively in dealing with pressure.
Learning how to use your resources to handle pressure is an essential party of staying mentally effective at work. If you feel stressed, remind yourself of your skills and abilities, and ask other people what you might have missed too. You can also use this approach to support other people, by reminding them of their strengths, spotting new approaches, and offering your resources.
However, teaching people new ways to cope is useful, but it is not a substitute for fixing the problems in a business, or for giving people proper support and realistic goals. Piling on the pressure and teaching people to cope is only a short-term solution. We can learn to be more resourceful and resilient, but we all have our breaking points.
Building your resources
Resources, then, are our tools for combatting stress and handling pressure successfully. If you want to reduce your stress levels, or take on more ambitious challenges, building your resources is essential.
Invest in your skills and your relationships: the more resources you have, the better you will do in your work. Just as businesses invest in their key assets, you can take the same approach yourself, building up a wide range of personal assets to handle future challenges.
Don’t wait until you’re under pressure to build your resources either. Barbara Fredrickson’s ‘broaden and build’ theory suggests that building resources is much easier when we are in a positive state of mind. Building your resources is much easier during quieter times.
So when things are good, take the opportunity to learn new skills and build new relationships, so that you can reduce stress and handle future pressures more easily. Remember though that we have a natural motivation to test our skills and master new challenges. We may be tempted to keep on pushing our limits, leaving us still only one setback away from slipping into stress.
Growing your resources, building supporting relationships and expanding your base of assets, both personally and professionally, can help you handle more pressure and take on more difficult projects and jobs roles. If you are really determined to cut stress from your life though, you may need to get comfortable saying no and doing less. Working within your resources is the best way to stay calm, but it doesn’t always make for an exciting life.
There is no one-size-fits-all-solution for reducing stress. Stress is incredibly personal: what you find stressful is probably not what other people find stressful. For instance, many of us find public speaking terrifying, but others find it exciting and enjoyable. We hit our limits in different situations, because we each have different resources.
Managing stress is an ongoing process of balancing pressure against resources. The key to reducing stress then lies in listening to people about what they are worried about, and the resources they feel they need, and setting goals safely that are within their resources.
There are a number of practical things you can do to support people when they feel stressed. First you need to understand the situation and why it feels so unmanageable for that person, because the source of stress will be different for each of us. Understanding this can help you both focus on the source of the problem.
The next step is to offer help and share your resources. Very often something that feels impossible for a colleague may feel easy for you, so offer your own resources to help them, and connect them to other people with relevant skills too.
You can help people with the psychological impact of stress too. Quite often people have the solution but in their stressed state they can’t see it, so if you offer fresh perspectives, you can often help them spot things they may have missed. Sometimes just being with someone can reduce their stress too. When we feel stressed we seek out other people to ‘tend and befriend’ and comfort us. Good relationships with colleagues, managers, friends and family can all help reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress. Sometimes it isn’t about what you say; it’s about showing sympathy.
So the next time you are finding things stressful, don’t cut yourself off: talk things through with other people, ask for their help and insights, and the situation may start to feel more manageable after all.
Other people still cause us stress of course. Social evaluation, lack of control, people letting us down – all these things stress us out at one time or another – but we would be much worse off without the people around us.
This article first appeared in a previous issue of Practice Business