3 steps to building workplace resilience

From the Career Conversations Series with Jean, Founder of Exaltitude
May 10, 2022
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Many engineers experience stress from everyday interactions with rude colleagues and unsupportive managers – in meetings, code reviews, or simple day-to-day conversations. Our colleagues constantly take credit for our work and don’t pull their weight in projects. Our bosses undermine our work and fail to give us the recognition we deserve. We repeatedly feel like the subject of workplace aggression.‍When we take interactions at work personally, we feel disrespected and angry. We feel the impulse to defend ourselves by lashing out at the perpetrator, spread office gossip, or shut down and silently stew for revenge. While we cannot control other people, we have power over our perspectives, expectations, and behaviors. We can build workplace resilience by counterbalancing our expectations of desire for perfectionism and instant gratification, which fuels our frustration at the inconveniences and disappointments.

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Here are the three steps to building workplace resilience.

Step 1: Understanding when you’re taking things personally
Step 2: Recognizing Opinions vs. Reality 
Step 3: Prioritizing self-care

Step 1: Understanding when you’re taking things personally

We all have our ups and downs in life. Sometimes, it feels like work throws challenges at us, and we don’t have choices but to put up with the situation. 

By taking others’ behavior personally, we put ourselves into misery. We feel we don’t get the respect or recognition we deserve. We find ourselves thinking that life is hard and unfair. When we think this way, we put ourselves in the center of the universe. 

Sometimes things are just not about you. 

If your boss is cranky, he may have just had a bad morning with his family. Your colleague doesn’t ask for your opinion in a meeting, and we may think, “he thinks I’m stupid,” but he could be just in deep thought over his plans or rushing to get to his next meeting.

We take others’ criticism and take it personally and view it as a serious threat. It’s easy to belittle others or launch into battles over right and wrong. We want to correct them and prove them wrong. We want to defend our beliefs. As a result, we create conflict. 

Step 2: Recognizing Opinions vs. Reality 

Our reactions to workplace interactions often stem from our feelings, past experiences, and beliefs. Anyone’s judgments are only personal opinions, not universal facts. Here are some examples:

There is a better way to run meetings.


Our weekly team meetings are a shitshow. My manager doesn’t know how to run meetings.


Everyone has different preferences and working styles. 


What do other people think is the ideal meeting structure? Start a discussion during a meeting or in a group chat.

I’m the only one working hard enough.


I had to work extra hours to pitch in to save the protect because others were not pulling their weights. 


They did not ask for your help.


What happens if you don’t step in? Is there a chance they may finish the work after all?

I’m getting fired.


I got bad feedback from my manager this review cycle. He doesn’t get what I have to put up with. I’m going to be fired. 


No one can predict the future.


What evidence supports the idea of you getting fired? How often are your 1:1s with your manager? Are you getting enough quality time to discuss your projects and career growth?

What do I know?

Our minds generally accept what makes sense to us. When we face reasons and evidence, we may evaluate them and come up with a view, but we usually don’t actively seek out conflicting perspectives or evidence. Our minds can be easily distorted.

Socrates said he was the wisest man because he understood there is much to learn, unlike other men. A simple quote summarizes his thoughts, 

“I know that I know nothing.”

Anger hinders us from positive outcomes.

Getting angry doesn’t lead to positive outcomes or change. We can question our interpretation of what feels like the truth. Reality may invite us to make amends or express our feelings. We may need to tend to our pain or validate our feelings. Once we feel validated, we can find new evidence to understand others’ points of view even if we disagree with them. 

Step 3: Prioritizing self-care

Let’s say you have pain in your right knee and go to the doctor. The doctor may treat you for your right knee, but also do a full medical exam to check your overall health. The doctor could prescribe immediate treatment for your right knee and see that your left leg needs physical therapy from the burden of carrying extra weight. You also need more calcium to help your bones get stronger to prevent injuries in the future. 

We can cope with anger by using tools to defuse the specific anger, but we should also evaluate our overall reserve. Are we feeling anxious and frustrated often or relaxed and peaceful? What is your capacity to handle stress or frustration? 

Take note of your emotional and mental reserve, which helps you manage anger. You can choose to prioritize self-care. 

5 ways to practice self-care

Explore these self-care strategies to calm your mind and body to build a reserve for handling stress and frustration.

1. Monitor your sleep.

Have you noticed that you are more irritable or snappy when you don’t get enough sleep? Studies show that sleep can boost your immune system even improve your memory. Pay attention to what affects your sleep, like caffeine or late dinners.

2. Check your overall eating habits.

It’s easy to skip meals or opt for the quickest meal available during our busy days, but our bodies need nourishment — plan for healthier snacks and meal options. 

3. Relax your body through mindfulness meditation. 

When your body is tense from anger or anxiety, escaping through shopping, drinking, or binge eating is tempting. But there are other ways to calm our minds and relax our bodies, like meditation. When in a crunch, take just one minute to breathe in and out slowly. 

4. Journal your thoughts.

Writing your feelings and thoughts can be an effective way to release your anger. It also helps you organize your thoughts and process ideas. Try setting aside time for routine reflections, like sitting at a coffee shop or a park in the morning for half an hour to write down your thoughts. 

5. Move your body.

Regular physical activity can improve your physical health and mental health by delivering oxygen to your body. Try walking meeting for your next 1:1 or go out to get coffee during your break. While you’re waiting for a build, try standing up and stretching for a minute, instead of checking more messages on your computer.

Patience is a virtue for building resilience.

“Patience you must have, my young padawan.” – Yoda.

Building resilience takes time. Work will put us through frustrations, pain, and suffering brought by others. Although we cannot change others, we can change how we react to our surroundings by recognizing and validating our feelings and investing more time to take care of ourselves. 

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