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The Energizer Blog

  • Writer's pictureEileen McDargh

The Right Questions Fuel Resiliency

Michael Bungay Stanier
Michael Bungay Stanier

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves." Zora Neale Hurston also penned, "There are years that ask questions and years that answer."

Both of these sentiments underscore a need for us to sit in a space of not knowing and being open to asking ourselves critical questions. In short, to be our own coaches.

I know no finer coach and master of THE questions than Toronto-based Michael Bungay Stanier. He kindly offers this guest blog post and resources to help you - my faithful readers - as a great way to move into this new year.

And now: Here's Michael!


Resiliency Has A Place in Your Career

Why is personal resilience important? What does it have to do with your career? What does resilience even mean to you?

Resilient systems have built-in fail-safes so that when something breaks, the step to recovery is clear. This speaks to an ability to bounce back and resist damage. But as Eileen often insists, that standard definition isn't adequate for human beings. As she says, "it means to grow through."

When something unexpected, and perhaps negative, happens, it's useful to have that built-in fail-safe, a quick way to fix the bad situation. But what true personal resilience looks like is a willingness to keep going when things get difficult and to roll with the punches. It's important to solve problems and adapt, but what you're really looking to do is not to go back to how things were but instead move farther forward, to get better and wiser.

In my book The Coaching Habit, I talk a lot about asking questions. Asking questions is the key to effective coaching.

Asking questions isn't just a tool for coaching others, though. If you ask yourself the right questions, you yourself can become more resilient in your career. You just need to understand a few concepts and know what we mean when we talk about resilience.

Understand Control versus Influence

It's important to understand the difference between control and influence. You can control yourself, your reactions and your behaviors. You can influence much more. You may not control a situation, but you can influence the people involved in it, for example. If you cannot control or influence something, just let that particular thing go. If you want to influence something you have no control over, find the best way to do that. Ask yourself, "What do I control? What can I influence?" and then go from there.

Create Rapid Prototypes

Don't create one big thing that is dependent on a thousand different things. Figure out how to do lots of small things rather than over-investing in one big thing. If one small thing fails, it won't matter too much, but if that one and only big thing fails, it will take a toll. If one small thing succeeds, you can move on it quickly. This strategy ties in well with creating that fail-safe system. What small step can you create now?

Build Support Systems

Create your own support system. Invest in your relationships with your family and friends. The people you surround yourself with are important - these people are your resilient resources, the reason you strive to do well and to do better. They will work to increase your personal resilience, as they've been through both the good and the bad with you (and have stuck around). Question: Who is in your support network? How do you nurture them?

Daily exercise can be another kind of support system. If you make time for physical activity every day, you will be more efficient at work and in life. An active lifestyle makes you feel better and increases your capacity and resilience. Question: What commitment can you make to exercise today?

Never Stop Learning

Increase your capacity to learn. Learn from your mistakes and from your successes, and appreciate what you take from both. Resilience comes from learning.

Ask yourself and your team questions after every engagement - for example, "What was most useful here for me?" and "What was most valuable here for you?" Think about what you want to remember post-event. These questions will drive your learning and, in doing so, increase your capacity, which drives your resilience.

Personal resilience equates to flexibility, strength and self-management - all of which are important keys to building a successful career. It's easy to give up or shut down in the face of adversity, but it's much more fun to overcome it and develop because of it.


About Michael Bungay Stanier

Author of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, Michael Bungay Stanier is the Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work. It is best known for its coaching programs, which give busy managers practical tools to coach in 10 minutes or less.

Download free chapters of Michael's latest book here.

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