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Building resilience

"Resilience is the ability to cope with pressure and bounce back from challenges and setbacks."

Researchers have found four key areas that help us to maintain and build our resilience in the face of setbacks. Building our resilience is a matter of building our strengths in these four areas.

Adapted from Cooper, Flint-Taylor & Pearn; Building Resilience for Success: A Resource for Managers and Organisations; Palgrave MacMillan, 2013


Building personal resilience helps us to cope with the pressures and stresses of life at work and outside. These stresses can take a serious toll on our mental and physical wellbeing , which is reason enough to think about what we might do differently.

Even if we feel beleaguered and down on our luck now, there are things we can do to help ourselves. There are also things we can do to build our colleagues resilience, and things they can do to help us.

No-one goes through life stress-free. Most of us feel resilient in some situations, but less so in others. What stresses me out may not bother you at all. Resilience is not about having a stress-free life, but about recognising that quite a lot of the stress you experience comes from the way you ‘think’ about your situation and your ability to deal with it .

The real skill resilient people learn is how to navigate their way through the stresses and pressures they encounter. Less resilient people default more easily to behaviour that may actually make the situation worse. Navigating through is not necessarily easy. It may require courage, finding strengths you didn’t know you had or learning new skills. But the more self-confidence you can develop, the better you can make your support networks and the more you can think flexibly about the situation, the more likely you are to cope well with it.


Quick Tips for individuals

Learning from your own experience

Reflection (15 minutes)


We can build our resilience in many ways. Try this quick personal review:

  1. Reflect on 2 or 3 times when you have had to draw deep on your own inner strengths to get you through a difficult situation. They can be recent or way back in time.
  2. What did you do to overcome or bounce back from these challenges? What inner strengths helped you through?
  3. What can you learn about yourself from these reflections? Note down some strengths do you already have to help you cope when the going gets tough?


Appreciating your existing strengths

Reflection (15 minutes)


Look at the Robertson Cooper diagram and pick out some areas where you feel you are strong.

  1. Write down an example of when you have used each of those strengths.
  2. Can you use these strengths in any challenges you face today?
  3. Note down two actions you could take in the next week to use your strengths to build your resilience.


Overcoming negative thoughts

Reflection (15 minutes)


Ruminating about our vulnerabilities can make us feel worse, even less resilient. Although it can be difficult, the turning point comes when you start working on how to overcome the vulnerability, or make it less painful.

Think of a situation when you felt less resilient. Let's see if we can 're-think' the situation:

  1. Is it possible that the way you were thinking about the situation was actually making it worse? It is often the way we ‘think’ about a situation that makes us feel what we feel.
  2. Might other people have thought about the same situation differently?
  3. Looking back on it, could you have thought about it in a more helpful way?
  4. What difference do you think it would have made if you had been able to think differently?
  5. Write notes on your reflections.
  6. Is there a step, however small, that you can take in the next week to help you move forward? Try writing it down - the evidence seems to show that committing an action to paper makes it more likely to happen.


Quick Tips for teams

Appreciating your strengths as a team

TeamTalk (20 minutes)


Look at the Robertson Cooper diagram together and brainstorm some areas where your team is strong:

  1. Discuss some examples of when your team has used these strengths.
  2. Can you use these strengths in any other challenges you face as a team today?
  3. Note down two actions you could take in the next week as a team to use your existing strengths to build your resilience.


Training Exercise for individuals or teams

Conquering disempowering beliefs

Action (30 minutes for an individual, 45 minutes for a team)


We are often held back by our beliefs about ourselves - either individually or as a team

.....   See the Training Exercise


Training Exercise for individuals

Using the Robertson Cooper iresilience report

Action (1 hour)


Complete the free online questionnaire based on the Robertson Cooper model

.....   See the Training Exercise