6 Ways To Build Emotional Resilience At Work

Feeling emotionally and mentally drained at work? Whether you are an individual contributor or leading a team, you've got to be resilient to maintain your performance. We've all heard the term ‘emotional resilience’ but you may not know how to tap into it.

As a leadership coach, corporate trainer and Ayurveda expert, I infuse concepts of yoga, mindfulness and wellness into everything I do. So, allow me to walk you through a concept that will help you bring emotional resilience to your professional and personal life.

Ojas: The Sense of Satisfaction with Life

In Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old healing system based in India, there is a concept known as Ojas, which can be defined many ways. In the context of physical health it means vitality or resilience. Ojas is the ultimate energy reserve of the body and mind.

Ojas is the delicate and refined essence we produce from the plants and other vital essences we consume — in fact it is sometimes described as the body’s natural honey. The more Ojas we have, the more satisfied we are with life, and the better we are at shielding ourselves from the negative energy of others.

As you might suspect, many organizations in Western Culture are chronically low in Ojas.

Throughout my deep journey into Ayurveda, I have been somewhat obsessed with the concept of Ojas as a shield of protection. As a corporate burnout survivor, I can without a doubt say that I have been in work situations where the negativity of the team dynamic or organization culture has weighed so heavily that I have felt emotionally and mentally depleted. The impact of this level of depletion negatively affected me professionally and personally. 

Ayurveda suggests that you can build Ojas through the five senses; however, it is very much focused on the gustatory sense through foods/herbs that enhance vitality or resilience in the body.

As I think about taking this concept of a protective container of vitality into the corporate settings where I teach groups and coach individuals to be more productive and effective, I find the concept of Ojas to be the key that unlocks the door for maximum enhanced daily performance.

Three Ways to Build Individual Resilience/Ojas at Work

Have you ever experienced a co-worker saying something to you that has rattled you to your core? Have you ever sat across from your manager as they delivered bad news about your year-end performance review? Have you ever been in a situation where the head of HR is across the table from you in a big conference room announcing that you are losing your job due to downsizing?

I have found myself in all of these situations and the first thing that happens is that I end up going to my emotional home. 

1.     Recognize Your Emotional Home:

Out of the five core emotions: happy, sad, angry, scared, ashamed, we all have an emotion that is most familiar to us and we tend to live in that place when triggered. For me, my emotional home is sadness. Before I can make sense of the trigger, the first emotion I feel is sadness, because it is the most familiar. Even if anger is the appropriate response, I feel sadness before I get to the emotion of anger. The key to building resilience is to know your emotional home. Ask yourself, in a stressful situation, what is your first familiar go to emotion?

2.     Change your Physiological State:

In NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) to break a stuck state (a way of being that is not resourceful to you), the first thing to do is to change your physiological state. Often referred to as the NLP Shake – where you literally shake everything out. Change your body, move! Because motion changes emotion and once you move your body, your emotional state shifts. Take a walk, practice calming/invigorating (depending on the situation), pranayama (breathing control).

Let’s revisit your manager sitting across from you delivering bad news. If your emotional home is anger, before you say something you will regret, be aware that you are returning to your emotional home, hit reset by getting up and ask to be excused. Take a moment to yourself by walking to the restroom or cafe. The act of walking will break the emotional pattern of anger. Take a few deep breaths and then proceed with the conversation. You’ll notice by moving and returning, you will proceed with more caution than if you sat stationary without moving. 

3.     Understand Your Desired Outcome:

Once your emotional state is altered, ask yourself, ‘What is my desired outcome from this interaction?’ If your manager is delivering news about your bonus/lack thereof, what would be the desired outcome? It likely isn’t a decision that your manager made on his/her own, so there is no point trying to negotiate or prove why you should get the bonus. What would be a more resourceful outcome? Perhaps it’s to gain more clarity on the reasons why you didn’t receive your bonus and then figure out next steps. Once you are clear about your desired outcome, you are likely to steer the conversation in a more resourceful direction. 

Recognizing your emotional home, changing your physiological state, and understanding your desired outcome are three ways to build individual Ojas at work.

At a team level, creating and cultivating collective Ojas is important for building the vitality and resilience of a highly performing team.

Three Ways to Build Team Resilience/Ojas

1.     Know Your Team:

Select a personality assessment tool that resonates with your organizational culture and administer it to the whole team.  There are two reasons for this:

a.     It’s important that everyone on the team speaks the same language.  For example, if you choose StrengthsFinder, DISC, or MBTI (to name a few), the common terminology allows all team members to be on the same page about the language they are using to describe themselves. 

b.     To ensure a strategic alignment between task and role, as a leader of a team, its crucial to ensure the right person is in a role that leverages their strengths. If you need someone to be very analytical and detail-oriented verses a high level visionary, you would want to, for example using the DISC, choose someone who has a high C (Conscientiousness) verses D(Dominance). I’ve seen many teams take the assessment, glance at the results, and then the conversation seems to be tabled. If you are going through the great lengths to get approval for an assessment, use the results to strategically align each individual with the role that leverages their strengths. 

2.     Overcommunicate to Build a Sense of Procedural Justice:
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where an organizational announcement was made that directly affected your job and you felt blind-sided?  Sometimes decisions are made that affect some people and not others and that can result in an indifference or worse, anger towards your employer.  Procedural Justice is essentially fairness in processes and is based on the premise that the most fair and respectful decision will be made.  When employees believe problems will be resolved fairly and honestly, they have more confidence in the decision and commitment to the organization. 

When decisions are made at a larger organizational level, it takes a while for the news to trickle down to the team level. As a leader of a team, whether you agree or disagree with the decision of the organization, to keep your team members engaged and committed, research indicates that it is necessary to overcommunicate. In some situations, if the decision is highly confidential, this may not apply but in most other scenarios, as best as you can, communicate frequently even if it seems redundant. Even if the decision is not perceived as fair and just, transparency will lend itself to more commitment and engagement than being blind-sided. 

3.     GRPI to Expedite Team Forming and Team Storming

If you're in the organizational psychology/organizational development space, you'll be familiar with Tuckman’s Model of Team Development.  If you're not, Tuckman suggests that all teams go through various stages of development: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.

Essentially, the forming and storming phases are the most time consuming. Highly effective leaders have found that using the GRPI model helps expedite through the forming and storming stages. GRPI stands for Goals, Roles, Process, and Interpersonal.

The SE Group suggests:

• 80% of conflicts in teams are attributed to unclear goals.

• From the remaining 20%, 80% are assigned to unclear roles.

• From the remainder, there is again 80% to be found in the field of unclear processes.

• Only 1% of the conflicts in teams can be attributed to interpersonal relationships.

What does this mean for you as a leader of a team? If you use GRPI, you can expedite forming and storming phase and leave very little (~1%) to interpersonal issues. We often think that personality conflicts or interpersonal dynamics are root causes for conflict on teams, but in actuality its unclear goals, roles, and processes. If identified and communicated ahead of time, you can have a highly functioning Ojas-filled team.

Thinking of Ojas as a container that holds abundant resourceful energy, it's important to have daily practices that help us create and sustain this subtle energy as an individual contributor and as a leader of a team.  

I continue to infuse concepts of yoga, Ayurveda, mindfulness, and wellness into all of my curriculum design, articles, and classes I teach.  I would love to hear your strategies for building and sustaining emotional resilience at work.