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Supporting your team through difficult times

Overcoming struggle requires us, and those we work with, to be courageous and open to evolution, writes Dr Adam Fraser.

On the surface, struggle can seem detrimental to one’s wellbeing, both personally and also in the workforce. However, a 10-year research project we completed with Deakin University uncovered that experiencing and overcoming struggle is critical for people's wellbeing and self-esteem. The reason why is that overcoming struggles requires us to be courageous and evolve. Our data shows that when we witness ourselves display courage and grow and evolve, we feel fulfilled.

In the current business landscape struggle is easily found. Technology is changing how we work, there are more competitors than ever before, margins are being squeezed, we are doing more with less and the rise of automation and AI is threatening the existence of many jobs. As a result, a key skill of managers and leaders is to have a more constructive relationship with struggle and discomfort.

Here are three simple strategies to support your team:

Show them you have their back

When people are knee deep in struggle they want to feel a sense of safety in their team. A leader can build psychological safety by showing their team they care about them, having a measured reaction when people make mistakes and being vulnerable. Vulnerability can be as simple as sharing personal experiences with your team when you have been in a similar situation and how you experienced comparable reactions to them. When a leader is authentic and transparent the team feel comfortable to open up to their managers rather than hiding information due to the fear of being judged.

Validate and accept people’s responses without judgement

Every person responds differently to struggle, for example if a team member comes to you saying they are feeling overwhelmed, instead of telling them it’s not that bad and that if they do X, Y, and Z they will be fine, empathise with their situation and make them feel as though you are listening to them as opposed to diminishing their reaction.

Constantly reflect on progress

Going through difficult times is exhausting, however when you reflect on the progress you have made, it’s also extremely rewarding. Rather than jumping straight from one tough situation to the next, leaders should ensure the team looks back at how far they came during that period and celebrate the evolution that has occurred. When teams feel a sense of progress, they are more resilient, engaged and energised.

Struggle and discomfort are inevitable both in life and in business. But rather than resenting this, focus on having a more functional response to them. As leaders, we need to not only live by this, but also encourage our teams to do the same.

Dr Adam Fraser is a researcher and author.

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain