How resilient people are different

In previous posts I’ve explored some of those differences, qualities such as intentionality, resourcefulness, and the motivating force of a few fundamental purposes and principles that inspire and guide them.

As I have thought more deeply about resilience I was reminded of the work by Jerry Sternin and others on “positive deviance.”

“Positive deviants are people whose behavior and practices produce solutions to problems that others in the group who have access to exactly the same resources have not been able to solve,” Sternin told me in a 2004 JSD interview. “We want to identify these people because they provide demonstrable evidence that solutions to the problem already exist within the community.”

Sternin and his wife, Monique, applied the concept of “positive deviance” to their life-saving work for Save the Children in the villages of Vietnam and to solving other seemingly intractable problems. (You can read more here.)

Positive deviants, I concluded in an earlier post, have one or more of the following habits which I think also apply to many resilient people:

1. Writing to gain clarity and to communicate;

2. “Counting” things to improve their performance (most things that count can be measured, even if only in rudimentary ways);

3. Reading widely in search of new ideas, perspectives, and inspiration;

4. Continuously seeking more effective and efficient ways to do things;

5. Engaging the support of others when challenged by stretching goals or demanding circumstances;

6. Persisting over many months and even years to achieve important goals because the values represented by those goals were so important;

7. Seeing things in unique ways that were in opposition to accepted wisdom or common practice; and

8. Assuming that important problems can be solved, and that working alone or in collaboration with others they would contribute to their solutions.

As you think about resilient people you have known, what behaviors or attributes would you add to this list?

Acting in spite of our fears

[I]n truth, fear is a useful thing. Once upon a time, fear was a signal to run from a lion or some other danger, and that was pretty useful. These days, we don’t usually have much physical danger (the lions have more to fear from us), but the same fear signals still happen, even when it’s trying to pursue our dreams or becoming vulnerable to other people. These days, the fears aren’t physical — they’re more about not being good enough.  —Leo Babauta

It’s not that resilient people are fearless.

Rather, they act in the face of the kinds of fears identified by Leo Babauta in a recent survey:

Fear of failure

Fear of being inadequate

Fear of rejection

Fear of not being prepared

Fear of being a fraud

Fear of ridicule

“You might notice,” Babauta concludes, “that they are all really the same fear. The fear of not being good enough.”

He suggests a new mental framework for viewing fear and a mindful approach to facing it.

“Just because fear is present, doesn’t mean we have to run,” Babuata writes. “In fact, we can practice acting mindfully even with fear in our bodies. The practice is to notice that there’s fear, and notice our habitual reaction. Stay with the fear, and notice how it feels as a physical sensation. Notice that it’s not so bad, that we can actually be OK in the middle of that physical sensation.”

What methods do you use to act in spite of your fear?

Starting off on the right foot

Most of us have been encouraged throughout our lives to stand up for ourselves, for others, and for the things we believe in.

But most of us have failed at one time or another to do so because of fear or other compelling reasons.

Consulting-expert Peter Block describes such people as “walking bent over,” adding, “If you walk bent over at the beginning of a consulting relationship, you will find it very difficult to stand up straight again.”

The importance of starting off on the right foot by standing up for what they believe and by defining the boundaries of relationships is a life lesson that resilient people have learned, often the hard way.

In addition to consultants beginning a relationship with clients, Block’s admonition applies, for example, to:

• Parents with their children,

• Teachers with their students, and

• Supervisors with those they supervise.

And so on.

Resilience requires standing up straight at the beginning. It also requires that when we find ourselves compromised we do whatever is necessary to stand up straight again. “Better late than never” is advice that applies here.

That usually means confronting problems head on without judgment and blame, having difficult conversations, and seeking win-win solutions.

So, while resilient people have learned the importance of establishing “ground rules” at the beginning of important relationships, they have also learned that it is never too late to start again.

What has your experience taught you about the challenges of starting off on the right foot and, if necessary, of starting again?

Can emotional intelligence be developed?

The ability to “read” other people, vividly imagining their unique psychological experience, is the compass by which we navigate our social world. —Hunter Gehlbach (March 2017 Kappan)

More often than not, resilient people possess the kind of people skills that we now associate with emotional intelligence, skills that are too often in short supply in many organizations, particularly at the highest levels.

Over the decades I’ve observed that people who are successful in a particular job sometimes run into difficulty when they are “promoted” into positions that require more sophisticated interpersonal skills, such as leading teams, supervising other adults, or resolving conflict in satisfying ways.

While they have the technical skills to do their jobs, they often lack the “soft skills” to be successful in their work.

These skills include the ability to listen deeply, have empathy, identify and manage their emotions and respond appropriately to the emotions of others, display authentic positive emotions, and so on.

The problem is compounded because their low emotional intelligence means that these otherwise competent people are likely to lack the introspection required to identify the problem and the skills to do something about it.

And the situation is further compounded because many people mistakenly believe that emotional intelligence is something you are born with, not something that can be intentionally developed over time. (A useful resource on this subject is Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence.)

What do you think:

Do resilience and emotional intelligence go hand in hand? Can someone be resilient without those skills?

Is diminished emotional intelligence a barrier to effectiveness for otherwise competent people? 

Does a lack of introspection and a belief that emotional intelligence can’t be developed mean that those people are unlikely to change?

Do the best that you can…

Do the best that you can with what you have where you are right now. — poster in a high school science teacher’s classroom

That’s wonderful advice for all of us that applies in many situations.

And it’s likely an approach to life used by many resilient people.

But because resilient people are resourceful, consider these additions to it:

Do the best that you can by expanding what you know and can do through lifelong learning

With what you have, and with what you can acquire by using your learning and resourcefulness to provide additional tools to more effectively accomplish your goals

Where you are right now, and, when appropriate, by changing your physical location or your mental perspective about the place where you are.

What do you do to continuously expand the boundaries of your best self?

Some of my favorite questions

question: [kwes-chuh n]/noun

1. a sentence in an interrogative form, addressed to someone in order to get information in reply.

2. a problem for discussion or under discussion; a matter for investigation.

3. a matter of some uncertainty or difficulty; problem (usually followed by of).

4. a subject of dispute or controversy.

Resilient people are resourceful, which means they enjoy the challenges presented by intriguing questions and the ambiguous situations or problems they may pose.

Such questions cause people to think more deeply about important things and to think thoughts that they otherwise would not have thought.

Here are two of my favorite questions:

• What would you do if you had more than enough money to support yourself and your family for a lifetime? What goals would you pursue and how would you spend your time?

• What significant challenge would you take on if you knew you could not fail? Or, put another way, what important things would you do if you were not afraid?

And here are a few questions that specifically address resilience:

• What core beliefs or principles would you not compromise?

• When will you stand firm, when will you bend, and how will you decide?

• What strengths do you bring to situations that require resilience?

• What people, groups, or other resources do you draw upon during challenging times for inspiration, clarity, and guidance?

• What lessons has your life taught you about surviving and even thriving during difficult times?

What are your favorite questions?

Inviting “big talk”

Make a life in which you are having the conversations you want to have.” — Laura Mott

Resilient people are proactive, and one of the ways they demonstrate that quality is by creating conversations that matter to them with their families and friends and in their work settings.

Think of those conversations as “big” rather than “small.”

While small talk has important purposes, large talk matters because it is far more likely to produce meaningful learning and to strengthen relationships.

During these conversations participants come to understand important things about themselves, each other, and the subject under discussion.

The world would be a better place, I believe, if such conversations were more frequently cultivated in families and the workplace.

In an earlier post I wrote that conversations for learning require:

• intentionality, 

• deep and mindful listening, 

• slowness that provides opportunities for thinking and elaboration, 

• an openness to learning based on a deep respect for the experiences and perspectives of others, and

an invitation, which may be as simple and straight forward as “please tell me more.” (Australian educator Edna Sackson explains how even difficult conversations can be improved when they begin with such invitations.)

What “requirements” would you add to my list?

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