S1:E1 – A New Take on Resilience: Navigating Through Anxious Times


In the first episode of their podcast, Bridgette and Irvine introduce a unique way we can build greater resilience at home, at work, and within our organizations. Tune in to hear how you can become a different observer of yourself and navigate your relationship systems with greater equanimity and ease.



Don’t forget to check out my You Tube channel with new videos every Wednesday on emotional intelligence, resilience, and leadership.

Check out Irvine’s new book Leadership Lessons From The Pub.

Check out Bridgette’s book which she co-authored with Bod Duggan  Resilient Leadership 2.0.

And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources some of which are mentioned in each episode. 


Bridgette: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Resilient Leadership podcast, where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you to lead with a greater sense of calm, clarity, and conviction even in anxious times. I’m Bridgette Theurer and I’m joined by my co-host Irvine Nugent. Irvine, how are you?

Irvine: I am doing awesome today, thank you Bridgette. I’m really excited to get this project, which has long been in the planning off the ground.

Bridgette: I know, I’m so excited. And today’s topic is A Unique Take On Resilience, navigating our way through anxious times. And quite frankly, if these aren’t is times, I don’t know what are. Right now the newest mutation of the virus is raging and people are getting ready for Christmas and it’s just all crazy. So, Irvine, I don’t know if you’re going to remember this, but we were talking and I said, when we were discussing this idea of doing a podcast, I said, does the world really need another podcast? And you said something when I brought that up and I don’t know if you remember what it was. You said yeah, because, and do you remember what you said?

Irvine: Oh, you’re asking an old man to remember now their memories, but I think if I remember correctly, what I really said was this is such a unique take on leadership and how leadership is approached that I really believe just listening to my clients and the struggles they’re going through, that this will be a refreshing take on leadership and really give them practical tools in how to manage the anxiety around them.

Bridgette: Yeah. Not bad for an old man, Irvine.

Irvine: Thank you. Thank you. I try.

Bridgette: That’s what I remember. You were like, hey, this is a unique perspective and this is a unique time in our history. So yeah, I’m just so excited to be able to share this particular model, this approach to leadership and resilience. But let’s start with introductions because our listeners, now some of the people listening know us, hello, if you know us, but hopefully there’s quite a few listeners who do not know us. So Irvine, why don’t you just start with introducing yourself?

Irvine: Sure. So as I bridge said, my name is Irvine Nugent and I am originally from Northern Ireland. That’s where I was born and raised. I came to the US in my twenties, So I’ve been here longer than I have been back in Ireland. For the last 10 to 15 years, I have focused primarily in leadership development, I’m based here in Washington DC. And my area of specialization is really in emotional intelligence and helping a leader, specifically harness the power of their emotions and to notice what is going around them. And that’s why I really have fallen in love with this model of resilient leadership, because really what we’re trying to get at is below the surface. So often in a world, we we’re so chaotic, we’re running around and to take time to look at really what’s happening at so often what we ignore or we’re not present to, really holds the keys to better leadership. And so that’s really been my mission, is to help leaders build bridges and to become better leaders and to create more human workspaces.

Bridgette: Love it. And you know what I love? I love how you say Ireland. It’s just beautiful. I don’t what it is about Americans, but we love accents and we love your accent. It’s not there as much as it used to be, but I still pick up on it on certain words.

Irvine: If you bring me out to the pub and I have a few drinks, it’ll get stronger. I promise.

Bridgette: Yeah, it’ll really come out I’m sure. Well, I’m not from Ireland, as you can tell. I actually grew up in the Washington DC area, so I’m sort of an anomaly because I’m a native, I’m a leadership coach and I’ve been practicing leadership coaching for 20 plus years. And I have to say that the reason that I chose to work with leaders, I’ve always been passionate about leadership always been a student of it like you Irvine. But I really do believe that second to parenting leadership is the toughest job there is to get right, to do really, really, really well. It’s pretty easy to be a mediocre leader, it’s much harder to be a truly exceptional one, especially, and things are really up in the air like they are right now. What else can I say? I love, love, love what I do.

About five or six years ago, I co-wrote a book with my dear colleague, Heather Jelks called Missing Conversations: 9 Questions Leaders Should Ask Themselves, and a couple years ago, I co-wrote a book with Bob Duggan, my wonderful partner and colleague and friend called Resilient Leadership 2.0. So here we are, and we are launching this wonderful, wonderful podcast. So Irvine, maybe it’s a good idea to start with what is really our objective, what is our goal for this podcast, and really for future ones. And it really has to do with helping folks, helping people show up as their best self in the relationship systems that they care about most. And that can be tough to do, especially when things are uncertain. And one of the things we talk about that I think is so true today is this acronym called VUCA. It stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, and that is the sea we are swimming in. Irvine for you, when you hear those words again, like which one really hits you hard in terms of what either you struggle with most or your clients struggle with most

Irvine: I would have to say at the moment where we’re at is uncertainty when COVID happened, we all made prognosis of what did this mean in our world? How long would it last? And of course, I know I was horribly wrong. I said, oh, this will be like six weeks, it’s going pass. And of course it didn’t. And here we are thinking, a couple of months ago, oh, we’re coming out of this. I’m already making plans for 2022 and now, I was supposed to go to New York in a few days’ time for the Christmas holidays and that’s all up in the air. So I think for me at the moment, it is the uncertainty it’s that it’s almost impossible to plan and that is unsettling, it’s very unsettling for the human person.

Yeah, it really is. I agree. I think uncertainty is the big trigger right now for me, but I think for most of my clients, when I ask them, because the human brain actually treats uncertainty as a threat. Because it interferes with our ability to predict the future, and the brain likes to be able to predict what’s going happen tomorrow, what’s going happen next week, what’s going happen next year, and heck we can’t even make our Christmas plans right now.

Irvine: So true.

Bridgette: So definitely unsettling. So we’re going to dive into all of this today and talk about how do we lead ourselves and other people in an uncertain world, but maybe let’s start with this. So, Irvine, we’re talking about leadership, this is a podcast for leaders, but what do we really mean when we say leadership or leaders?

Irvine: It’s a great question because I often say, how many books have been written on leadership? If you do a Google search and just put in Google, how many millions upon millions upon millions of searches will come back? And yet it is so difficult to come to a definition. There is no just one definition and therefore, I think it’s important to clarify. Leadership is not just about a role, leadership is not just about a title, it’s much broader than that. And I think it’s best thought about as this ability, this capacity, perhaps we have as human beings to influence others. And therefore, when you think about that, you think leadership then is not just the CEO or the vice president or the manager, in many ways we can hold leadership roles in all types of situations in our lives. And we are called to exercise those leadership roles, and so I think what we mean is that we mean leadership in its broadest sense, and certainly some of the exciting tools that we’re going to share can used in any form of leadership that you exercise.

Bridgette: Yeah. I love that idea of just leadership is about influence because you really can lead from any seat on the bus. And especially when we’re looking at this from a systems perspective, which is what we’re going to do, you’re listening, you’re a leader, doesn’t matter what title you have, doesn’t matter what role you have, this episode and this podcast is for you. All right, so now let’s talk about what… that’s what we mean by leadership, but what about resilience.

Irvine: Yeah.

Bridgette: When I say resilience, what comes to mind or what do you think comes to mind for most people, Irvine?

Irvine: I think when we talk about resilience, it’s kind of like you get punched or knocked down and you have the grit, the resolve to get up and you dust yourself off and you get on, and that is an aspect of resilience, and an important aspect of resilience. But I think what we’re looking at is resilience from a different perspective and becoming more resilient in the context of something we’ve already mentioned, which is the relationship systems that we are in. If you think back, if you look at all the different systems that you were in. We grow up in families, we have some, however we define that we’re in a family system, we’re in teams at work, and I was just talking to a client last week, we were talking about this and they said, you know, I think I’ve got seven or eight different teams. I’m part of, we’re in organizations, the wider organizations, and that’s our organizations at work. We’re in church organizations, we’re in social organizations, we’re in sports organizations and then we’re in communities. We have a board meeting in our condo association, so we’re all in different forms of communities, and when we talk about resilience is how can I be resilient when it comes to those relationship systems? Because those relationship systems impact everything about how we show up and how we lead.

Bridgette: Oh my gosh, it’s so true. And if we’re going to bring our best self to those relationship systems, it’s so helpful to understand how they tend to behave when they’re under the influence of anxiety. Because it turns out there are some really predictable behaviours and patterns, I’m going to get to that in a minute, but one of the things that I think is so helpful to understand about relationship systems when they’re anxious is how contagious they become. That what affects one affects all and the virus that we’ve all been dealing with, COVID 19, we’re in our, what year and a half experience of this? Boy it’s contagious, but the anxiety it spreads is just as contagious. And when people become anxious, they become reactive. And that reactivity spreads like wildfire as well and ends up really being the chief calls of burnout in the long run. Irvine, I’m remembering your story speaking about anxiety catching like wildfire story about going into Costco. At the beginning of the pandemic and what… because you had been out of town I think, but why did you [inaudible 11:28]?

Irvine: Yeah. I’d actually been in vacation in the Island of Kauai in Hawaii for those that know that that’s one of the more remote islands, so literally we had spent in 10 days really, and we didn’t watch news, we were on the beach, and we were just having a great old time. And we had a number of friends who were with us there from LA and they left a few days before we did, and so we got this frantic phone call about the day before we’re leaving for the airport and they said, oh my God, you’ve got to  get toilet roll, you’ve got to get vitamin C, you’ve got to get all these [inaudible 11:58]. And we’re saying, what, what, what? And we were saying, my God, this person’s normally a very balanced and calm person, what is happening? And and so, you know, we’re full of doubt, et cetera. We would never do this, You know, we’re not hoarders. So we fly back. We arrive in DC Sunday evening and the next morning, the Monday morning I had caught whatever was going around and I was out with my trolley at eight o’clock in the morning…

Bridgette: You were hoarding.

Irvine: Yeah. I was getting ready. And let me tell you, when those doors opened, there was a mad dash and right to the back corner of that Costco where the toilet roll was, and I saw two people fighting over a toilet roll, and here was me think I’m above that.

Bridgette: Yeah.

Irvine: And then [inaudible 12:35] I was just getting right into it.

Bridgette: Oh yeah. Because none of us are above it.

Irvine: Of course.

Bridgette: So let’s chat about these predictive behaviours that just start to emerge in anxious families or teams or organizations, businesses, because once you are able to really become a different observer of them and yourself in it, it gives you a little space to navigate. All right, so I’m going to name five and for the listeners, I’m really curious as to when I say these five predictable behaviour patterns that anxious systems shows which ones can you see right now? Okay. So the first one I’m going to say, and this is my favourite one is complaining and blaming. The old finger pointing, we become obsessive about other people and all of our energy and all of our attention goes into what other people are doing or not doing. Whether that’s our boss, whether that’s difficult colleague on our team, whether that’s a family member, the person in Costco who you’re fighting over the toilet roll.

Because anxiety makes us other focused, and that’s a trap that we can fall into because it’s not very empowering because we can’t change what other people are doing and how they’re behaving. So that’s one. Second one is distancing. It’s like we get so, oh, I don’t know, we don’t want that anxious, reactive person around us and so we hold them at arm’s length and we might even cut off from them. Now when we do that to colleagues, that’s a problem because then we can’t influence them Once we cut off from them. A third one would be seek the quick fix. There’s so much pressure on leaders to answer the problem, tell us what to do, we need to do something, let’s just right, and that quick fix mentality really comes to the surface when people are anxious. Do you see that Irvine?

Irvine: Bridgette I see it in myself. I have made decisions in my life that were quick decisions and when I look back and I think, why did I make that so quickly? And it is, it’s I didn’t like feeling like I did. I felt uncomfortable, I was full of such anxiety and so let me just make a decision and it’ll go away. And of course, longer term it doesn’t and I see this so often in leadership. People befuddled by decisions that are made, and people sitting back who, who are scratching their head, why was that decision made? And when you scratch below the surface, what you begin to see is decision-making in highly anxious times where a lot of logic is not brought to the table, but rather this desire to act quickly is the force that’s moving it.

Bridgette: Yeah. And leaders, even in normal times feel a lot of pressure to be sort of the answer man, or the answer woman, but in anxious times, it’s the even more acute I think. So let me mention just a couple of others and over-functioning which we’re going to talk about in our next podcast in more detail, but that’s a common pattern in families and teams and organizations where we start to do for others, we start to think for others, we start to take on responsibility for things that aren’t to carry, again, driven by anxiety. And then another one is triangles. And I mentioned that because leaders are the most triangled people in any organization. And what’s a triangle? Oh, it’s so simple. And we do it all the time, which is I’m having an issue, conflict, a misunderstanding, a struggle with one person that creates anxiety, and I might not know how to address it with them so I bring in a third person. Whereas that make me feel better to talk about that other difficult person with this third person.

 Here’s the thing about all of these patterns is they make us feel better in the short term because it releases some anxiety. It’s like when you were saying that quick fix. It makes us feel good to make a decision I’m done with it, but in the long run, because we’re not really thinking, we’re just reacting instinctively, it actually exacerbates anxiety because the real issues are not really being resolved. It just keeps circulating round and round.

Irvine: So it kind of strikes me Bridgette that for a lot of people they’re hearing this word system for the first time, they’ve never really thought in that way, which is interesting. So what would you say then is the greatest benefit? How can looking at the system make us better leaders make us more resilient at work and really at home?

Bridgette: So if we can begin to observe these reactive patterns with curiosity and be on the lookout for them, not only in the system meeting in others, around us, but in ourselves, now we have a chance to not be swept up in it as much. In fact, anytime you start to observe something with curiosity, you’re using a part of your brain that calms you. And then once you are observing something with curiosity, it’s now become the subject of your observation and so it frees you up to make a different choice. So what you can then do as a leader is be like, okay, so that’s what’s going on there. That’s the behaviour, how am I reacting to it? And how could I think my way through it? Instead of just getting caught in the churn and burn. We’re talking about having a wider picture on things, not just focusing on our own grip, our own ability to bounce back, but to zoom out and realize we’re part of a much bigger picture. And that relationship system, when it is agitated, when it is anxious because of the VUCA world that we live in has a profound impact on us.

The good news is we can have a profound impact on it, first and foremost, by becoming a different observer of it. And starting to realize we think our way through not just react to the emotional pressure. So contagiousness of anxiety and reactivity is a big deal, but also Irvine, presence, a leader’s presence, and I think that’s something that most leaders aren’t really taught is how important the quality of their. That’s kind of like one of those words when we talk about presence, you know it when you see it, but how would you define what leadership presence is?

Irvine: It’s such a great question because I think just as you said, leaders, don’t recognize at times their very power because we’re in this mindset of, I have do something and presence seems almost something that’s not doing it’s and really it’s the power of being, and we connected at the beginning kind of leadership with influence, and I think here what’s really good it’s the energy that you show up with. What energy are you sewing into? The people you’re around out because people feel it. I’m married to a dentist and every now and then and he will not have a good day, and he’ll…

Bridgette: You know it before he comes in the door, don’t you?

Irvine: Totally. That door will open and within three seconds I can feel it. And I suppose, all of us who live with spouses and partners, et cetera, we know it, the person in the door and there is something that happens. I know this has been a good day, I know it’s been a bad day. This is what we’re tying into. It’s this innate ability to pick up, and whether we like it or not, we can’t make ourselves immune from that. It’s like oh, I’m, I’m going to sit back and not be influenced by this. Of course we’re influenced by it. So the presence is this energy that we are sowing into the system, whatever system we are in. And that impacts everything. It impacts actually not just the physical presence, we’ll send an email and in many ways it’s permeated even through the writing as well, people can pick it up. And especially in meetings, et cetera, and our level of optimism, our level of anxiety, all of that is fed. So this in many ways is leaders at times aren’t cognizant of this and they don’t use this as a deliberate tool, which is very important. And it’s this noticing that you’ve talked about the noticing of what’s happening.

Bridgette: Yes. I like the idea of using this as a deliberate tool because I remember so there’s two people. We should probably mention Ed Friedman and Murray Bowen because we’re drawing upon a lot of their great thinking. And Ed Friedman was a protege of Murray Bowen. Murray Bowen was the person, the scientist, the professor of the psychiatrist that made the extraordinary discovery that all these systems have predictive ways of behaving under anxiety and then Friedman took that and applied it to leadership. And one of the things that ed Friedman said many, many years ago, he’s passed away for some time now, but I remember hearing this and it struck me. He said the single biggest lever that a leader has to influence a system for good is through the quality of his or her presence.

So think about that. That is really interesting. And in a virtual world, everybody’s working virtually now people listening, this might be, yeah, but I’m working from my home so I don’t know how much my… like you said, email zoom calls, phone calls, presence is the energy that gets telegraphed through all of those things. So we’re talking about the quality of your presence because you’re always impacting a system for, for better or worse, but what kind of a presence is most calming to an anxious system?

Irvine: So this is a great question and I think it is very much the person that first of all recognizes the anxiety that’s surround them in the height of that anxiety and then can come with a clear, thoughtful response that is just less reactive. Now that doesn’t mean necessarily a person that’s super calm and sitting back and not doing anything that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about someone who is acutely aware of the anxiety around them and is able to with deliberate choice, be calm in a situation, but also provide clarity in a situation. We’ve talked a little bit about VUCA, et cetera, and how uncertainty, but not that this person has to be a mind reader and know what’s going to happen, but a person that gives clarity about what should be done in a clear, calm and consistent way. And that’s really what is helpful in dealing in highly anxious organizations.

Bridgette: Yeah. And I really think that clarity piece that’s so important because we talk about uncertainty, and so you don’t have to have all the answers to be clear. I think consistency is huge as well that we want to be able to predict how our leaders are going to behave and when we’re inconsistent with our messaging, when we’re inconsistent with what we say we want or expect that just amps up the anxiety. The calm, clear, consistent, thoughtful, I’m remembering a leader that I worked with and we had talked over the phone and I did notice he kind of had a racy quality to him, so speaking of the energy that he telegraphed, it was pretty high up there. And then I met him in person and from the moment he greeted me to the time we got to his office, I have never seen a human being walk or talk faster. It was like [inaudible 24:24] and I was trying to run to catch up with him. By the time we got to his office, I was out of breath. And I realized that that was the kind of presence he was telegraphing a lot of the time right where he were. And I shared with him the impact it had on me, which was it increased and elevated my own anxiety. .

Irvine: And what I love about that example, Bridgette, is the fact that so often we are immersed in our own reality and it’s hard at times us to really notice the quality of our presence. At times we don’t check in, where like in that example is such a frenetic kind of presence and, and that just maybe be second nature to them and really have no idea obviously of the impact they were having. So this awareness then is incredible and we’ve talked lot about systems today and leadership and resilience, et cetera, and we’re going to dig a lot deeper into these, but I think the first thing we’ve talked about today is certainly being that self-awareness of what’s going on around us. But if you had to name a couple of other really core building blocks that are really at the centre of what we’re talking about, what would you say?

Yeah. Okay. So absolutely does begin with self and system awareness. Observing how we are reacting to anxiety because we all have our own brand of reactivity and observing how the others around us are behaving and being curious about that. I think the next thing then is self-regulate, that’s the next building block, because really the question there is, well, if I can observe with curiosity how the people around me are behaving and reacting and how I am, the question is, is that how I want to be? Is that how I want to show up? And it might not be how I want to show up. And so then I have to somehow decide what I’m going to do differently. I have to regulate my emotions, my anxiety, and then the third one I think is self-definition. So it’s self and system awareness, self-regulation, and then self-definition.

And that’s about deciding what we really think, what we really believe, what we stand for in the moment of some issue that’s escalating that we take the time to stand apart from the emotional climate of the day to think. But it’s also about defining ourselves more broadly. Who do we want to be in our life? Who do we want to be as a leader? And you know what? If you think about it, those three things, self-awareness, self-regulation, self-definition it’s kind of  like in the pandemic, we’ve had certain practices that have kept us from catching the virus. Wearing a mask, washing our hands, keeping social distance, these three building blocks kind of protect us if you will from becoming infected by the anxiety and reactivity of others. And it helps us to stand apart from that emotional climate, think for ourselves, and then lead people in a different way.

It comes back to us, but looking at how we manage ourself in the context of our relationship systems, that’s huge. And when we’re other focused, it’s like, but it doesn’t matter what I do. They’re still behaving this way, they’re still doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. But what we always have to remember is that when we elevate our own functioning as a leader, the whole system functioning elevates as well. Where you go the follows. So what do you think, Irvine, should we end with a practice that would help give people maybe a tangible way to take everything we’ve talked about and put it in action?

Irvine: Yep. And I think that’s really important. You know, part of what we’re desiring to do in this podcast is not really for it to be something ethereal and in the mind only we really want to be able to put this in practical terms and give you a practice that you can put an exercise right now when the podcast is over and use that really to develop some of awareness, perhaps, we’ve been talking today of the systems that we’re in. So today’s practice is called getting on the balcony. Now we’ve talked a little bit back and forth today about how it’s important to be aware of what is happening around you and how difficult at times that is. When we’re in the midst of anxiety, what are the most difficult things it is, is just to be aware of how we’re showing up, how others are showing up and what’s happening around us.

So the first practice may [inaudible 29:34] well, that’s a little obvious, but let me tell you obvious is times very difficult to do and to develop just this practice that becomes ingrained in us and so getting on the balcony is one of those. And the term comes from if you consider like a balcony, like say if you’re in the midst of a dance floor and you’re dancing with other people and your focus is you can see the person just in front of you, you don’t have a really great view of the people around you, and there’s a balcony overlooking that. And you go upstairs and you get on the balcony and now your view is much wider. You can see other people you haven’t seen before, you can see relationships you didn’t see for connections you’ve seen before, and so it’s a different view.

And so what getting on the balcony is, is this ability to be, first of all, curious. And we’ve talked a little bit about the power of curiosity and about how curiosity actually neuro-scientifically helps us move to a place of calmness. And what we’re doing with that is to be curious about what’s happening around me and not just immediately right in front of my nose, but perhaps what’s the bigger picture. And I think getting on the balcony can help us with a few questions. First question might be, what’s really going on here? What am I anxious about? Just stopping and asking that. And then the second question is, okay, then how am I reacting? How am I reacting to the pressures that are around me and is my activity is how I’m reacting, helping, or hindering? And then the third is we mentioned about the importance of calmness and showing up with calm, how can I calm the system around me? How can I create an atmosphere that allows for clearer thinking?

Bridgette: Yeah. You know Irvine, it’s simple, but not easy. In other words, it makes sense, but practicing it, first of all, practicing it real time is challenging. The easier place to start practicing it, I think is in hindsight. At the end of the day you get on the, and you look at your day, and you ask those questions. Or you finish up with a meeting and before you go to your next meeting, you get on the balcony a little bit and you think about what took place and then over time we build that muscle to where we can get on the balcony in the meeting itself and observes [inaudible 32:04] and we already know how to do that. I know you’ve had this experience before where your spouse has been talking to you and you’ve just been really distracted and you’re going mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm, but then you go, you catch yourself and you realize, I haven’t heard a single thing you said, and you bring yourself back to the present moment. That’s essentially you got on the balcony there. We all already have this muscle, but I think it’s atrophied. I think we’re so busy reacting, we got to build the muscle for thoughtfulness. For thoughtful observation.

Irvine: I often wonder, we get up in the morning and the first thing that we do is turn on the news, turn on the TV, et cetera. And it’s almost like from that moment, till we go to bed, we’re bombarded by noise and static and everything around us. And there are so any competitors for our attention in the world today and so to be able to take this moment of just check in is incredibly powerful.

Bridgette: Yes, indeed. All right. So Irvine, I think this brings us to the close of this episode, but we want to kind of talk about the next podcast, right?

Irvine: Indeed.

Bridgette: The listeners to see we talked about these reactive patterns and we mentioned over functioning, so the next episode is about banishing burnout. And I think burnout has become almost an epidemic right now so we’re really going to dive into the three keys to sustainability versus sacrifice. And understanding over-functioning is one of those so hope you folks tune in for that episode. We are so delighted that you took the time to listen to this episode and get all the way to the end of it with us. Irvine, it was just such a pleasure doing this. And I really look forward to our future episodes.

Irvine: Absolutely. Thank you everyone for listening. And remember to subscribe and do us a favour, if you found this useful, spread the word, because we know that there are many people out there who are having a tough time, and we’re really convinced that some of the knowledge and some of the practices are really going to be impactful and helpful. So if you think of someone in your circle who could benefit, just feel free to share this podcast.

 Bridgette: Thank you so much.

Irvine: Thanks everyone.

Bridgette: Have a great day.

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