International Terrorism and Workplace Resilience

The past week included a major event in the history of terrorism. The news reporting has considered the event as turning point in controlling terrorism as well as a provocation to further such acts. Time will tell.

Terrorism intimidates people by instilling fear. Acts of terrorism increase uncertainty by infusing riskiness into a wide range of ordinary activities. These events undermine the sense of psychological safety people cherish in their communities at work. The victims of the World Trade Center attacks were overwhelmingly people at work. It’s not surprising that these events weigh on employees’ minds while they go through their days. Ideally, people have the resilience to pull together as a community when external forces threaten them, but not every group has the experience, initiative, and leadership necessary to react so constructively.

Fear has dire implications for productivity and development. As emphasized in Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build model, threats focus the mind. That focus can be an asset when under extreme pressure requiring a quick, deliberate response. That focus can save your life in extreme circumstances.

But chronic deterioration of psychological safety narrows the mind in a less constructive fashion. That limited focus becomes a liability.

A sense of security encourages a broader focus. A sense of psychological safety opens possibilities for creativity and personal development that would never cross the sights of a highly focused mind. While everyone shares a responsibility to work towards a safer, more fulfilling world, it is wise to prepare for the worst. The challenge is to do so without bogging down in burdensome security rituals or perpetuating low grade anxiety.

One constructive strategy is building team resilience. Unless you’re working in an unusually placid sector of the workforce, your workgroup has experienced pressured events and will likely encounter some more. Reflecting on these experiences to build a shared sense of resilience can strengthen a group’s capacity to weather future events. What’s needed is a structured and thorough reflection on the lessons learned.

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