Women need more “resilience”

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, known to the media as the “First Lady of Facebook,” lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, to a heart attack in the spring of 2015.

After struggling to reconstruct the balance between family and work, Sandberg wrote about her pain and published it on Facebook (where Sandberg is COO and has nearly 2 million followers). The article sparked a global debate on how to deal with misfortune and hurt.

In his efforts to get back on track, Sandberg turned to his friend Adam Grant for help. Grant is a professor at the Wharton School and an author. Sandberg wanted to know what the research had to say about resilience and resilience. This eventually led to a new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, which the two co-authored. The book is available now.

Would you advise someone who is going through a difficult situation to get back to work as soon as possible?

Absolutely not. There’s more than one way to grieve, and more than one way out. The time you need is different from the time I need. There’s a story in Option B about a woman who went back to work the day after her husband died, but felt perceived by her co-workers. But she couldn’t stand being at home and needed a place to go. Everyone has to find their own way out. Some people may take months or longer. As for sharing with others, the same thing is true. To break the isolation, I ended up choosing to share completely and publicly, which I didn’t expect at first. But there are people who don’t want to share. We must respect everyone’s emotions and different time needs.

When misfortune befalls a colleague

How should a company respond if an employee has a crisis in his or her personal life?

Research shows that companies that set up systems to give employees help such as financial support or extra time off when they are in crisis (such as when their house is damaged by a tornado or they need to care for a seriously ill family member) will be rewarded. Employees will feel like they belong to a humane organization and feel proud and more loyal to the organization as a result. So companies do need to take more responsibility when such situations arise.

When faced with a colleague’s misfortune, people usually don’t know what to say, so they just don’t say anything or say the wrong thing. What advice do you have for this?

The most important thing is to acknowledge the pain. To face up to the fact that it is absolutely impossible to avoid. Before Dave died, if a colleague was diagnosed with cancer or lost a partner, I would tell them I was sad, but I wouldn’t bring it up – I didn’t want to “remind” them. It was only after I lost Dave that I realized how ridiculous that was. I remember losing my husband, and there is no question of you “reminding” me. Let’s face it. “I know this is a hard time for you and the kids, are you okay?” — Words like that will be comforting. “You’ll get over it,” is kind; but it’s much more thoughtful to say, “We’ll get over it.

Does it help if people ask what they can do?

It’s a friendly gesture. But asking someone in pain to ask for help, or to think about what help they need, can add to their burden. When you’re too sad to help yourself, what else can you ask for? My colleague at Facebook, Dan Levy, had a very sick son who sadly passed away. While Dan was in the hospital, a friend who bought him a burger asked in a text message, “What’s not in your burger?” Instead of asking, “Do you need anything?” Doing something specific can help tremendously.

“Post-traumatic growth”

Resilience refers to the ability to return to one’s original state. But you also write about “post-traumatic growth.” What does that concept mean?

It was developed by two psychologists, Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. They found, while working with some parents who had lost a child, that some parents felt some kind of positive change in their lives, in addition to tremendous grief. Since then, entire circles of research in this field have tried to figure out what it means to grow from trauma. Many people end up feeling stronger. They say, “I’ve come out of this, and I can overcome anything.” Some people are grateful for what they still have. Some develop relationships with more depth than ever before. Some find new meaning and purpose in life and hope to make something of it.

Is it possible to gain these same growths you’re talking about without going through life changes?

This question was one of the most interesting concerns in this collaboration we had. Our collaboration is a study that puts Cheryl’s personal experience in the context of social science. Cheryl asked, because of this question, “If there’s ‘post-traumatic growth,’ why can’t there be ‘pre-traumatic growth’?” ; and I’m asking “pre-trauma?” …… But it’s a great idea. People don’t have to go through a traumatic experience to learn these lessons.

Have you seen any examples of pre-traumatic growth?

After Dave died, my friend Katie Mitic was touched and started writing long letters to her friends on their birthdays, saying why she loved and appreciated them. Some of them began to follow her lead. It’s a great way to deepen friendships, find meaning and learn to be grateful without you having to go through any trauma. I think we cultivate resilience by preparing for any adversity we may encounter. We all encounter adversity; everyone has option B that they must face.

How to Cultivate Resilience

In the workplace, the most effective way to learn is from failure. We all fail and we all make mistakes. Facing failure and mistakes head-on can be extremely difficult, but it’s the only way we can build resilience. I learned this when I was in graduate school. I was particularly afraid of speaking to a group of people, but I had to overcome that in order to be a teacher. So I made an effort to seek feedback. I volunteered to lecture in other people’s classes and then asked the audience to fill out feedback forms. It was pretty unpleasant to read the feedback (one person said I was so nervous that the students were shaking along below), but it showed me my most fundamental mistakes and set goals for improvement. We should all bring that openness to our work and encourage others to criticize us and help us improve.

Everyone talks about learning from failure, but many companies don’t do it well. What are the reasons for that?

I think the answer is simple: self-esteem. We all know that if we see failure as an opportunity, it will make us better. But I don’t know anyone who does everything they can to “learn from failure” and screw it up. So when failure happens we tend to be defenseless and then we start defending our pride and our image and proving to ourselves and others that we are not stupid. And that gets in the way of improving ourselves and making constant progress.

How can you learn to deal with failure more constructively?

When working with executives, I ask them to rate not only their performance over time, but also their subsequent receptiveness to feedback. It’s amazing how open they are to feedback, especially from people who are so good at their jobs they really want to get an A!

How do you create an organization that derives value from failure?

First, create a culture where you can speak up about failures and mistakes. Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School has studied how some hospitals avoid major medical mistakes. She found that healthcare teams learn more and make fewer mistakes when they feel psychologically safe, are willing to take risks and admit mistakes, and are not punished for inadvertent mistakes.

What are the keys to resilient companies that adapt effectively to changes in their environment?

The key to resilience is the speed and strength with which you respond to difficulties. The best approach is to have a disciplined system that works in the event of the unexpected. Musk’s SpaceX is an interesting example. He told me that because rocket launches failed over and over again, he had someone list the 10 biggest risks of failure (in fact, one subsequent explosion was caused by something other than the top 10 risks; so the lesson might be that the 11 biggest risks should have been identified). Highly stable organizations know how to establish these norms. They make a giant list of all the concerns that could go wrong, check each one before they act, and add to the list every time an unexpected problem arises.

By temporarily letting go of work, such as taking a vacation or turning off electronic devices, you are able to boost resilience.

A lot of evidence supports this idea. But personally, I think we usually understand “break” too narrowly. Research by Kim Elsbach of the University of California, Davis, found that the best way to take a break is to do work that doesn’t use your brain. Repetitive work frees up brain power and helps creative thinking. As we progress and master more complex skills, we mistakenly dismiss repetitive work. Doing things like entering data in a spreadsheet for a few minutes in between difficult, creative work can help restore our energy.

Many people say that a sense of humor is important for resilience. How do you keep a sense of humor in the darkest of times?

I think a sense of humor is extremely important. Nell Scovell, the editor of our book, is a TV comedy writer with four siblings. At her mother’s funeral, she stood up with an envelope in her hand and said, “This envelope says which child our mother liked best.” Being able to laugh at the most painful times, even for a second, even if it’s about the unfortunate event itself, can be a huge stress release. It makes you think, “Oh my God, this will pass.”

You wrote about how to help children develop resilience, and one way to do that is to make them aware of their strengths. Does that approach work for corporate employees as well?

I think it does. It’s just that parenting is a lot harder than leading a team. For children’s resilience, the idea that “they are important” is very important. They need to believe that others notice them, care about them and depend on them. If children feel insignificant, there can be very serious consequences, such as criminal tendencies, antisocial behavior, aggression, etc. By the same token, it is the leader’s responsibility to make each employee feel important and cared for. This is one of the reasons why “walk-around management” is so popular. You should also make employees feel counted on. Many leaders are afraid to ask for help, but employees want to feel that their contributions are valuable. One of the most powerful ways to act as a leader is to say, “I don’t know the answer right now.

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