Resilience - an ancient idea in the modern world

The word resilience is from Latin and originated in ancient times, but it is certainly not an archaism. On the contrary, it is currently being used more and more. Building it up, even in a small way, can bring about big changes.

Resilience has been discussed by ancient philosophers, later joined by experts in the natural sciences, and is also discussed by psychologists, soldiers, educators and companies. Physicists define it as the ability to return to its original state, ecologists as the restoration of nature after extreme situations. It saves soldiers' lives to the word and to the letter - it teaches them to handle difficult situations with a cool head, but also to process trauma. However, the same applies to the business sphere, i.e. companies and employees. Resilience is a quality that enables people who have been knocked down by life to find a way not only to stand up again, but also to remain calm under pressure.

"Resilience is a scientific concept that Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania began to develop 40 years ago. He was inspired by Aristotle, who argued that we become what we repeatedly do. Many people know what they should do, but don't do it," says Zuzana Čmelíková, Leadership and Resilience Development Professional at Mazars in Slovakia, in an episode of the Očami HR podcast.

Listen to the podcast episode in Slovak

Some people have higher resilience due to genetics, some due to life experience, others are simply lucky. Others are lucky to build it up. At Mazars, we help build it both ways - our expert resilience programmes are designed for our employees and clients alike. It is a concept that is useful not only in the workplace, but also in private, as it looks at people holistically. The importance of resilience has been highlighted by the pandemic, which has extremely shuffled personal and professional lives and shaken people's psyches as well. It left many on the verge of burnout, others did burn out under enormous pressure.

Michaela Hecht, Head of Consulting at Mazars in Slovakia, confirmed this in an interview. "I was tired, stressed. My dream job suddenly didn't make me happy. I decided to do something about it."

Name the problem

Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity and challenging situations, the strength to stand up, to carry on and not lose meaning in the process, not to resign oneself to the idea of a fulfilled life. Habits and the way one lives have an extraordinary impact on its quality. In building it, it is necessary to name the problem at the beginning and find out exactly where the potential for change is. The concept of increasing resilience works with a functional methodology, which means that it is not about any intuition, but about firmly graspable methods and practices. Using diagnostics, the professional will measure the client's so-called resilience quotient. It has 7 competences:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Critical thinking
  • Realistic optimism
  • Energy-management
  • Perseverance
  • Relationships

Self-awareness does not come first by accident. In fact, it is extremely important for a person to be aware of who they are and what their personal values are.

"Personal values are, in fact, the source of personal identity and personal integrity - whether I have the guts to live in accordance with what I believe. It's good to be able to decide what is worth fighting for in life, that is, what is of value not only to me but extends into the public interest," says Zuzana.

Group versus individual

The process of building resilience is not a sprint, but a long-distance run. For example, sharing problems in a safe environment helps to simplify the process. Mazars does resilience-building programs in groups and individually.

Michaela has tried both types. "We don't share all the things on group resilience programmes, some things are too intimate. On individual ones you can go more in depth and many people cry, but on group ones colleagues can get to know each other from a different angle. I look at them differently now. I understand why they behave the way they do in a given situation. Both have advantages, the combination is the best."

The parallel with athletes is often used in the discussion of resilience, as it is with athletes that the pressure to perform is particularly evident. The ideal is champions who can perform well consistently. According to sports psychologists, the recipe for victory is 40% physical preparation and up to 60% mental preparation. This means that it is important for success to be able to sort things out in your head, to set yourself up for the role of a winner, to prepare for stressful situations and to be able to grasp them.

Taking this parallel from the sports arena to the corporate arena, physical preparation is replaced by the right data, information or spreadsheets. Resilience, in turn, will be increased by focusing on attitude and preparation, i.e. finding answers to questions such as: who will be our communication partner? How do we create an environment in which we both feel comfortable enough to be able to build a long-term and consistent relationship?

Perceiving and allowing ourselves to make mistakes

Zuzana also talks in the interview about the fact that mistakes along the way of learning to cope with stressful situations are understandable. "It's not just about listening to the person, but creating a win-win environment, i.e. reaching agreements rather than compromises. It might not work on the first try and that's okay. Because resilience is also about realizing that we are not perfect and not everything is going to be one hundred percent."

The concept of resilience stresses that it is normal not to know, but it is important to want to learn. It creates an environment that allows people to make mistakes and then encourages them to learn. So it is not about the unquestioning acceptance of making mistakes, but a space in which people can make mistakes and grow. Because that is how innovation is found and leaders are created. Because you can't keep getting better results if you keep doing things the same way.

Up to 96% of our day's activities are done on "autopilot" - not just physical activities like making coffee or brushing our teeth, but also when it comes to thinking. "Our level of resilience is equal to our level of thinking. Despite the fact that we as humans are emotional beings, it is important to make decisions after considering rational arguments, i.e. putting emphasis on the fact that the brain is our CEO. Many times we think that thought equals reality, but this can be conditioned by various traps of our mind," confirms Zuzana.

Building resilience teaches how to become aware of these traps, step out of the tried and tested boxes and think about the problem differently. It also teaches how to stop in a stressful situation, take a breath, step back from it, not react aggressively, yet not suppress emotions, but process them. The observation of psychologist Susan David from Harvard University is true for every human being, namely that it is impossible not to experience an emotion. However, with resilience it is possible to decide how to experience it.

Listen to the whole episode called Resilience in the company and at home by Jana Sliacka and CVmango on your favourite audio platform. The episode is available in the Slovak language.

Listen to the web version