The question came from the HR Partner of a fast moving consumer goods company. Some of their staff distribute highly marketable consumer goods, and the threat of having their vehicle hijacked at gun point is real.

But hijacked five times — wow! I can’t imagine what that must be like.

I asked what the company was doing to assist these people.

“We use unbranded vehicles, change the delivery routes and also have installed vehicle tracking systems. We make sure that the people at risk know what to do in a hijacking situation. Also, we provide counselling for those who have been hijacked.”

And what’s not working, I asked?

“Well, many of the people who really need counselling don’t go, or quickly stop going. We have tried offering stress management training, but they are poorly attended. Absenteeism is rising and we are concerned about domestic violence increasing.”

It struck me that this is almost the same problem experienced by the Metropolitan Metro Police (click here). It seems that when groups of people at work experience prolonged stressful situations, an unfortunate macho culture can quickly be created. Typical phrases I have heard are “cowboys don’t cry” and “real men suck it up and carry on.”

So would building resilience training assist a person who has been hijacked five times?

Firstly, if there are people who are suffering from post traumatic stress or PTSD (click here), they must receive appropriate medical and psychological assistance.

Having covered PTSD, building personal resilience in anticipation of stressful events will definitely help. This can be achieved by helping each person understand the resilience mechanisms that they are using at present. Then capitalise on what’s working, by showing them additional resilience tools so they can become even more resilient. To be acceptable in a macho culture, the training can be positioned as learning the tools strong people need to live even stronger.

I was asked for some tips for the people at risk, before they attend the building resilience training workshops, and this is what I provided:

1. Strong people strengthen what brings meaning in their lives.

During really tough times, the reason to persist and not give up, lies in the meaning one has in life. For most people this will come from one or more areas of significance — significant people, causes and faith or spirituality.

2. Strong people change their thoughts to change their lives

We need balance to obtain perspective, and the darker the adversity, the greater the need to maintain perspective. Even in bleak circumstances, people find things to be positive about. Challenge negative thoughts to check what basis they have in reality and then replace them with less catastrophic thoughts. In a situation, even like a hijacking, ask yourself: what is positive; what is the opportunity or what can I learn? Also, identify things you are grateful for and interact positively with others.

3. Strong people adopt a realistically optimistic attitude

Realistic optimism is a way of thinking and an attitude that can be learnt. It can even be fostered by people that are naturally inclined to be pessimistic, or after a really stressful event. Our attitude is a choice we make about how we look at our circumstances. We have control over our attitude.

4. Strong people reach out to others

There are two aspects to this tip – reaching out to ask for help from people we trust and reaching out to offer help. Our pride often makes it difficult to ask for help. Yet when you pluck up the courage to ask for help, you will be amazed at the generosity of responses. Offering help is also very valuable: by listening to or helping others you can also help yourself to put things in perspective.

5. Strong people take small steps towards their goals

Resilience requires a shift of focus away from the problem itself to actions that can either solve it or lead to new possibilities. So stay goal and solution focused, prioritise, be action orientated and take small steps.

These tips will help strong people live stronger, even in the face of significant adversity such as being hijacked five times. The tips also apply to you and me – which is your favorite resilience tool?