At the recent Virtual Summit, I was talking to a group of Assistants about resilience and how we gain respect in the office. Both of the Assistants said that we had to try not to take things too personally and that having a ‘thick skin’ is an excellent competency to have as an Assistant. It is undoubtedly true. We deal with a lot of high-level tasks, that mean something to the business. We operate in a high pressured environment, and if we make mistakes, they tend to matter. So, trying not to take things too personally is hard. If you also think about it, we work with people who are under a lot of pressure that can easily take their stress and anxieties out on us. I know the feeling well – when you start to flush, and your body goes all tingly, and you think to yourself ‘did they just say that to me!?’ and then you have to try really hard not to react. It is tough but growing a thick skin, rolling with the punches and not taking things too personally really will hold you in good stead as an Assistant. Here are a few tricks I’ve used to develop resilience.

Don’t take it personally! Growing a ‘thick skin’ at work

Look at the bigger picture – what does it mean to you? This has always been my first port of call when dealing with stressful situations. I’ve worked in some horrible environments over the years (customer service operator in a call centre and waitress spring to mind) and whenever I had to deal with a customer who was not happy I immediately thought of the bigger picture. They want to vent. It is making them better and actually, are you that bothered by this outburst? No? So don’t let it bother you because I get to go home and forget all about this person and their problem! I took this approach into my Assistant roles. I looked at the bigger picture in every situation and asked myself what it meant to me. For example, if someone spoke to me severely, but that was unusual for them, I’d let it slide knowing they would probably apologise later and explain they were having a bad day. If someone always spoke badly to me, then I’d address it because that behaviour is not acceptable. Work out what is important to you and go from there and remember it is their bad day, not yours!

Keep busy with work that matters. When you do feel like you things are not going the way you want them to then it is always worth focusing on the work that keeps you busy, makes you happy and is essential to the business. In this space, you can tell yourself that you are worthy and what you do in the organisation matters. Confidence is such a great skill to develop for Assistants because it gives you a shield when other people are trying to hurt or upset you. Having faith in what you do and knowing what you do matters really will help you be more resilient.

Maintain a positive outlook. If you have received some negative feedback, always try to maintain a positive outlook. Even if you think the feedback is unfair, it is worth listening to what they have to say and taking any actions you believe are necessary to up-skill or improve in the role. If you try hard, you can turn any negative into a positive. The best way to do this is to listen to the entire feedback with interrupting and remain calm. When they have finished, ask for specific examples of the behaviour so that you don’t repeat the mistakes and then say ‘ I hear you, I’ll do better next time’. After that, you can leave the office and go vent to your friends and family!

Seek out your network. If you have a strong network in your office, then this is the place to go when you need a little motivation and back-rubbing. This is where a great Assistant network comes into play because we all get how hard the role is and how much pressure is put on our shoulders. When you feel something personally at work, you should always have someone to talk to even if it is your friends and family (they have to listen!). Sometimes you need that affirmation that you are doing a good job!

You are not your job. This is my last point. When you are being criticised, remind yourself that your work is being criticised not you personally. You are fantastic, inside work and outside work and nobody can take that away from you. Give yourself some perspective. You are not a brain surgeon. You are not saving lives (I don’t think anyway!), you are not pulling people out of burning buildings so although your job is important, it is not REALLY important. Perspective will help you build your resilience and not take things too personally.

I always want to make this point. It is up to you what environment you work in. If you feel like you are continually being criticised unfairly, if you feel like your Executive is continuously making you feel uncomfortable and unhappy or they are misbehaving this is very different, and you should address the situation because it is not on. You don’t have to work in a toxic environment.

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