Resilience in the Face of Tech Mishaps

How to Gracefully Overcome Digital Frustration.

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While I was still in Business School, I landed a summer internship with the United Way in Gulfport, where I was tasked with helping to update the organization’s infrastructure. My team and I worked tirelessly throughout the summer developing new systems for online giving, emergency protocols, and sustainability planning. But one day, all our hard work- our protocols, initiatives, and planning- was floating in the ocean. It was August 29th and Hurricane Katrina made landfall early that morning. After some frantic phone calls, I discovered my team was safe. But now here I was contemplating my failures. The disaster relief organization I had worked for was struck and crippled by a disaster. My work had been for not, yet that was not what was important. Here is what I took away from the experience:

1. How you react to a situation is the most important aspect;

2. It can always be worse; and

3. Bad things happen, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

I wasn’t responsible for the hurricane (obviously), but I was responsible for how I reacted to the news that a hurricane had struck the coast, my office, and my work. Knowing that it can always be worse and that bad things happen helped me react successfully to a negative situation.

My experience during Hurricane Katrina helped me and countless others develop Psychological Resilience. According to Michael Windle, psychological resilience is defined as an individual’s ability to successfully adapt to life tasks in the face of social disadvantage or highly adverse conditions. Your mind could perceive a condition as highly adverse while another person could perceive the same situation as moderately adverse to not adverse at all. Many people that were affected by the storm were paralyzed by the unknown while veterans and servicemen and women slipped right back into hero-mode and immediately began to assist people in need.

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In a professional environment, I have seen multi-million dollar projects go completely off-track because server updates failed. The most effective people were the ones that shrugged off the lack of technology and settled with more antiquated means: pen and paper, sticky notes, or whiteboards. When it comes to projects, we rely on technology to communicate, collaborate, and share our progress. When technology fails us, it is important to remember that it happens — in every industry and in every position, even at home.

If conference technology fails during a meeting, which it seems like it does often, roll with it. Keep taking your notes, designate someone to fill in the missing members with a one on one phone call or quick email update. Technology shouldn’t be thought of as an infallible tool. Tools fail and we roll with it. I once watched a speaker whose clicker had failed during her talk continue through her presentation by describing the slides where they normally would be and even making jokes about how great her non-existent slides looked. “Now this slide, I can’t even convey the magnitude of its brilliance…” After the talk, I asked how she could recover with such grace. She told me it was because she had seen the same thing happen to one of her professors’ years prior and he just pushed through and in fact made it a very memorable lecture. I will remember her talk for a very long time and if that’s not an example of positive psychology I don’t know what is.

So how can we grow and strengthen our psychological resilience without waiting for technology to fail or for something to blow up in our face? The American Psychological Association suggests “10 Ways to Build Resilience”, but I will list the four I think are most helpful in the professional environment.

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1. Maintain good relationships with (co-workers) close family members, friends and others.

Keeping good relationships with people not only helps during team tribulations but it also strengthens behavioral adaptation,

2. Accept circumstances that cannot be changed.

Tech fails in the workplace and dwelling on the present mishap can be very disruptive to the task at hand. Change course and proceed,

3. Keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context.

Having a big picture perspective helps to show that a single event should not be blown out of proportion,

4. Avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems.

Problems are only unbearable if you perceive them that way, facing them head on means they are over faster.

Building psychological resilience is important, not just at work, but in your personal life too. If, for instance, your toddler accidentally drops your phone off a second floor balcony to its demsie(been there, done that), take a deep breath before reacting and use that time to remember these strategies for resiliency. Having a process to deal with tech frustration can be a lifesaver for your blood pressure and your relationships.