Being resilient during difficult situations and events is part of everyday life, but when circumstances begin to overwhelm professional judgement, the right coaching can help individuals manage tough changes. Careers coach Carole Pemberton explains.

We are all resilient. Without resilience we would not deal with the constant adaptations that daily living requires. It is equally true that we can all lose resilience, when circumstances place demands on us that overwhelm our resources.

But, cuts, uncertainty, career disappointment - all of these things test resilience. This is where coaching can play an important part.

John, a senior manager, had dealt with relocating his family several times. He had weathered a serious illness. He had responded to restructuring, to a shrinking of resources, to the demands on his role changing.

He saw himself as a balanced mature individual, and then he was turned down for several promotions and he noticed that his response changed. He did not want to put himself “out there” again for fear of being rejected. He knew he should be stretching himself in order to be prepared for the next role, but he did not want to move outside his comfort zone.

Or consider the case of Linda, who saw her role changed by a new agenda and became convinced that her team was letting her down. What links both of these stories is that they are both able individuals who temporarily lost their resilience. Where once they had been flexible and able to adjust in response to demands, they became stretched, and in doing so their range of responses narrowed.

The same thoughts, feelings and behaviours dominated their working day. For John it was the thought that he could not trust colleagues. For Linda, she became more and more demanding of her team while constantly thinking that she was not good enough.

There are always people who seemingly bounce back from whatever life throws at them, but they are the exception. Most of us have a mix of qualities in varying degrees that together provide a personal template of hardiness. Qualities such as the ability to look difficulties in the face, the ability to retain a sense of perspective and humour when things get tough, and the belief that we have the resources to sort out our own difficulties. When we lose access to those qualities, life is tough.

Rediscovering them is made easier through support, and it is here that coaching has a role to play, because it allows the space for individuals to be able to both acknowledge what is being tested in their resilience mix, and to develop new thoughts and behaviours so that they can find their balance again and move forward.

So what can a coach or a line manager do when faced by a member of staff who is struggling to access their resilience - some who has lost perspective, who sees no options, and/or whose confidence has collapsed?

In The Resilience Factor, the evidence from the world-leading Penn University Resilience Project is that helping the individual to reframe their thoughts is key. When an individual can only see the situation from one perspective, coaching can help widen the view, helping them to see how they have created their thoughts and actions.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy provides a useful framework for this task. The “ABCD model” asks the individual to identify what is the:

  • (A): Activating event  - which might, for example, be the threat of change;
  • (C): Consequence - meaning the consequence which they have imagined, for example “I will be ignored in any decision-making process”;
  • (B): the Belief(s) that shape the Consequence – for example “I count for nothing here”.
  • B sits between A and C, and is often unrecognised by the individual. But, put A, B and C together, and what follows is:
  • (D): the resulting action – for example, “I’ll say nothing but will passively resist”.

By allowing the individual to build up the ABCD they have created around the life event they are struggling with, the coach can challenge the coachee to find a more helpful belief (that is authentic for them) that opens up new possibilities. 

For John, challenging the belief that a failed application meant his colleagues could not be trusted brought a new belief that they were not responsible for him getting a job, but they could help him find a better fit. This enabled him to start having conversations with them about the sort of role he would be best suited for. 

For Linda, questioning her belief that her team was failing her allowed her to look at the wider picture and to acknowledge that her team was doing its best but needed to see her commitment to the team. This allowed her to have more honest conversations with team members about how they were going to deal with the changes together, and in the process she came to see her team as important to her resilience, rather than a drain on it.

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