Resilience and change: realistic optimism and humor


Psychological safety is the foundation of all great improv teams. It is the foundation of trust, openness, unconditional support, vulnerability and a celebration of diversity. As a consultant, I create psychological security in organizations. However, I wanted a better understanding of its connection to resilience. So, I contacted Doug Hensch, a great leadership coach specializing in resilience. He is so expert in this field that he wrote the book on resilience, literally! (“Positively Resilient: 5 ½ Secrets to Overcome Stress, Overcome Obstacles, and Overcome Anxiety”)

Bob Kulhan: Okay, Doug, there are many puzzles that leaders need to solve to build employee resilience when they attempt to successfully bring them back to the office. Why do leaders even have to think about it?

Doug Hensch: That’s a great question! First of all let me say that I believe optimism can play a very positive (pun intended!) Role in guiding people through difficult times. The “brand” of optimism that I recommend is “realistic optimism”. When leaders are realistically optimistic, they build trust. It’s important that employees hear the truth without the sugar coating. I can hear the best leaders say something like, “Hey, there are some tougher times ahead. I don’t have all the answers, AND I know that by working together we will get the most out of it.

Kulhan: Change is inevitable; so why are so many employees resisting this change?

Hensch: “This change? What about EVERY change ?! Ok, almost every change… We like predictability, on average, more than we like change. It makes sense. If I had to guess every morning what I would do, where I would go, who I would work with and if my job existed I would be a wreck. It’s been a little over a year and so many employees have figured out how to work effectively from home. They maybe appreciate the time spent at home. DO NOT commute and train quickly most days. Leaders may need to prepare for some tough decisions. My advice is to come up with organizational changes in the form of experimentation. Let your employees know that your goal is to do what’s best for the business AND (there is still this word!) your employees. Commit to evaluating changes in work routines and policies. Look for feedback and set up a process to assess your situation.

Kulhan: What role do humor and laughter play in resilience?

Hensch: Is this a joke from Mr. Business Improv !! ?? This can play a pretty important role. Biologically, laughing reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels, increase confidence releasing oxytocin and increase the pleasure by delivering endorphins. This little “cocktail” of chemicals in our system is about the best medicine you can give yourself (and others) during these difficult times. When it comes to stress, we’ve been on high alert for over a year. Humans are built for moments stress, and cortisol runs through our veins for hours on end as we worry about our work, getting back to the office, and how often we need to be vaccinated. Confidence is the lifeblood of any great goal-oriented team. We have to question each other’s ideas, and without trust, challenges turn into personality clashes and mistrust. When we laugh with others we demonstrate vulnerability, which builds confidence. Finally, research shows that we are in fact more open minded when we experience emotions such as humor. Endorphins can broaden our view of the world and broaden our repertoire of behaviors. And this is not a joke!

Kulhan: How can leaders create psychological security for humor, laughter, bonding, and resilience?

Hensch: This is one of my favorite subjects. Success in today’s world – professional and personal – requires different perspectives, ideas and opinions. The old model of leadership where the leader is the smartest person with all the right answers is obsolete. The world is changing so quickly and so radically that leaders must invest in their ability to collaborate on decisions and solve problems. Psychological security (the condition that exists when people are not afraid to share their opinions, beliefs and ideas) is indispensable. The first thing leaders can do is let it be known that people will not be punished or ridiculed for speaking their mind and being themselves. Then, it can be extremely helpful to share your own mistakes and bad ideas. Demonstrating this vulnerability gives employees more confidence that they can safely express their opinions. Another tip that I have seen go a long way is to just walk around the room and ask people for their opinion. Pay attention to who is talking and who is not. Consider something like, “Hey Bob, we haven’t heard from you about this. What would you like to add? ” Sometimes all Bob needs is a little help …

Kulhan: I love it. You are basically describing the ability to harness the power of people to gain multiple and unique perspectives of clarity so that you can find the best overall solutions.

Creating a secure sharing space for employees is one thing. Employees can be worried, however. They may need to be pressured to be vulnerable. How Can Leaders Help Employees Get Through These Troubled Times?

Hensch: Sometimes it’s good to treat the symptoms and sometimes it’s better to look for the cause. When dealing with symptoms, leaders can offer a two-hour resilience webinar that teaches basic mindfulness skills, for example. These are life skills that can help you in a variety of situations, and a one-off webinar may be just what you need.

The other approach is to determine the root cause of stress, fatigue, anxiety, being overwhelmed, etc. For a client of mine who went through all of the above, I asked her to look at her calendar and assess how important it was for her to be present. meetings on his calendar. Turns out, on average, she attended eight one-hour meetings a week where her presence was not needed or even beneficial. (She then declined those meetings and recovered an entire 8 hour day!)

It’s not always that people aren’t motivated to develop effective programs or to ask for what they need in the “right” way. They often don’t know how to do these things. Leaders need to address the root causes of stress, anxiety and fatigue and provide basic training for support in stressful areas such as organizing effective meetings, communicating and collaborating, l ‘building trusting and relationship building, difficult conversations and creating mutual accountability.

Kulhan: What have you achieved in the past year and a half that could help others build resilience?

Hensch: In fact, your book and our fun chat on my podcast “In search of and” taught me that the great improvisation phrase “Yes and…” is not just for comedy. It helped me realize that having a good sense of humor, being in the moment, giving your full attention to people and being open to what’s on offer opens you up to more creative solutions to problems big and small. . Don’t overlook the power of a good laugh or a thoughtful conversation with a coworker.

Doug has hit the nail on the head: in a world of anxiety and stressful change, optimism, psychological safety and humor are the keys to resilience. Leaders have the flexibility to design a clear path to psychological safety – virtual, on-premise, or hybrid. It is an investment in people, an organization’s greatest resource.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.



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