On the day that I was meeting with “Don,” a new team member to talk about his initial project, I was blindsided by the pressure that he came at me with. And I’ve noticed that I get very reactive when I’m surprised.
In this particular case my first reaction was to be quiet. This didn’t last long: my next reaction was to try to explain, defend and even placate his strong emotions. But within a couple of minutes I realized what was happening and I changed tact.
The first step to effectively dealing with the emotional pressure is realizing that it’s there. Until I recognize the pressure I’m just going to be dealing with it reactively, and that can go poorly. And thus the first thing that I did was consciously take actions in order to calm myself down.
I did this in two ways: firstly I paid attention to my breathing–I slowed it down and used that to get more grounded. Secondly I set my immediate goal to simply come to a clear understanding of his concerns. By narrowing my focus to these two things, I was able to regain my balance and adjust to what was happening.
And it worked — I headed off my own cycle of escalating emotions and within a minute, I was calm enough to think. This calmness is key: in a tense situation it is absolutely critical for me to think clearly and strategically. Perhaps it sounds obvious, but then have you ever acted rashly in the moment and then looked back later and think “what happened?!” I have, and it tells me that this is a powerful point, not to be overlooked.
I firmly believe that this ability to spot the pressure and then get “calm in the clutch” is a pillar of effective leadership. And it is the first stage of stepping into emotional pressure.
© 2007 Paul Konasewich