Episode 1 What is Resilience?

In our first-ever podcast, we have Ms Bhawana Mishra – Founder and Managing director at Basil Tree consulting, talking to us about Resilience.

Before founding Basil Tree, Bhawana was the business director at SHL and has helped many companies make assessments a part of their employee life cycle. She also has a master’s degree in applied psychology from the University of Delhi. She is certified in a range of global psychometric tools, assessments and training processes.

Listen to the podcast here or read the transcript below:


Can you give us your understanding of what resilience is?

Bhawana: Yes, looking at it from a higher level, there is quite a bit of consensus on what resilience is. Typically, everyone agrees that it is what you would call a set of positive responses, both psychological and behavioural, to a set of negative triggers. But that is deceptively simple, right? Many management theorists and psychologists would not be in business if we all agreed so quickly to everything so from where does the dissonance come? The disagreements come in on whether resilience is a fixed trait, is it a state of being, or is it an acquired behaviour? That is where we all differ. Since we’re dealing with the work context, or in sports, particularly endurance sports, where resilience kicks in, I believe we can safely assume three things. It is a capacity and not a fixed trait. That means that it can be grown like most things that make you better at work or a sportsperson better at sports. Second is that it is about positive adaptation and not about strength or solidity. And third is that you need it constantly in everyday life, too, and not just in extreme crises to achieve peak performance at work. Those three things are what constitutes resilience. It’s a capacity, not a fixed trait. It’s a positive adaptation to our environment that stresses around us not just strength, and we need it constantly in everyday life to achieve peak performance.


You spoke about what constitutes resilience. Can you expand on that and how it can be measured?

Bhawana: As I said in the first question, it is a capacity, and it’s a positive adaptation, and we need it constantly. But the capacity of what? Positive adaptation to what? Right? So that’s where your question becomes vital. And what constitutes resilience, so at BasilTree, we believe there are three parts to resilience or three constituents of resilience, what we call emotional, mental and social resilience. Now, that’s logical because that’s how all human beings are right? All profiling, instruments, personality questionnaires and everything tries to evaluate or understand an individual from those three perspectives. But let’s see how those three plays out in the context of resilience emotionally and perhaps the most important.

The first one is resilience starts with self-belief. How much confidence do I have in my ability to address problems? The second is emotion regulation. Now, I’m using a technical term, but basically, what it means is can we remain calm and in control of our emotions, especially in stressful situations? The third aspect of emotional is adaptability, the extent to which I’m willing to adapt my approach, and my behaviour to the circumstances and the fourth is optimism. Do I believe I will experience good things in life? Good outcomes? Is good stuff going to happen to me? So that’s the emotional component of resilience. The mental component of resilience then kicks in around how of what is it that I’m going to do? Do I have a purposeful direction, clear goals and am I committed to achieving them? Do I have ingenuity, which is the extent to which an individual can generate creative solutions to problems? Management schools teach creative problem solving a lot.

The third is challenge orientation or the extent to which an individual enjoys experiences that are challenging. Do I like to deal with stressful situations? So that naturally wires me then to resilience? That’s the mental component of resilience. And the third and equally important is, is the social component of resilience, which is called seeking support, the extent to which I’m willing to go out and seek help. We’ve had a case of a super successful CEO who recently passed away. I would wonder whether that individual was taking it all within themselves or were they going out and sharing what kind of stressors at work which was impacting them. They may not even have realized some of those. So that’s a vital component of resilience as well, which is the whole support seeking piece.

To summarize, those are the three key parts of that that we believe constitute resilience. Emotional resilience, mental resilience and social resilience, each of them having their construct that define them separately.

You did ask me how it can be measured so I could pick that up as well. Occupational psychology has moved forward tremendously. A lot of good tools have been developed, which allow an individual’s resilience at a workplace to be measured. Being able to understand which of those three components of resilience are things that we’re strong at or things that may eventually become challenges is important for us as we go forward.


What can someone who is more resilient do that someone who is less resilient can’t?

Bhawana: Look, all the research in the world points to one basic thing. What was traditionally called hardiness, and more recently, the concept of resilience has become the differentiator for sustained success in whatever you do. Some of the biggest industries or corporations have either been created by people in India who came out of partition or in the western world, out of the world wars. Or in the American world, even during the early nineteen hundreds out of various forms of adversity. And those people went on to do so successfully and so well in life. If we had to go back and study them, that’s the one thing that perhaps differentiated them, their ability to withstand pressure in all those three ways that I talked about earlier and be able to keep coming back. I’m reminded of the words of the Irish novelist Oliver Goldsmith, who famously said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fail”. That is probably the one defining thing that differentiates people who are super successful over a sustained period from those who are relatively much less. It’s just the ability to be able to cope with what comes your way as well as possible.


Are people born with resilience, or can it be developed like any other skill?

Bhawana: Ah! I wouldn’t be in business if I believed you were born with everything and you can’t develop it. As I said earlier, resilience is not a fixed trait. It can be developed, and development, like in any aspect of our life comes with knowledge. It comes with knowing where you are today. I’ll take an example for you, much like how a lean individual can understand the body, the metabolic rate and all other aspects to craft an exercise routine, to be able to build a muscular body over a period. And we have seen so many of those transformations. Right up to Bollywood, close to home is one of those cases where people have gone on to show a phenomenal transformation. Now, similarly, the same thing applies to the work setting as well. We need to understand who we are, what aspects of resilience that our strengths do not nurture, what could be the chinks in our armour as we go forward. Once you have that understanding, not just for resilience, but much of other things as well, then we go about creating a plan with a series of resources to build deeper and lasting resilience. So, is it possible? Yes, 100% is something that you can develop. What you need to know is knowledge and understanding of where it is that we are at today before we go forward.


Listen or read part 2 of this conversation here.