Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Composure Under Pressure

In sports, an indispensable key to success is the ability to maintain composure and execute your objectives in the face of intense pressure. I can still hear the surly words of my college lacrosse coach as I’m being surrounded by three aggressive defenders: “Sostrin, composure! You dictate where you’re going, not the other way around!”

This lesson from sports is quite applicable to our experiences in the workplace – particularly in today’s age of rapid change, shrinking resources and increasing demands. Rather than being reactive and letting the onslaught of challenging circumstances dictate our course, we can keep our composure and remain focused on our goals and objectives.

Challenges to our composure are everywhere. Anytime we experience a disagreement or conflict, a clash of personality, external pressures like tight timelines and tight budgets, or anytime someone else makes us the object of their unhappiness, the pressure is on. I would argue that composure is one of the most underrated traits of successful managers and employees and that if we cultivate it intentionally we can improve our success.

When we lose our composure, our attitudes and behaviors recede into a realm of reactionary, often personality driven behaviors. Rather than assertively working toward a solution, our flustered and disjointed actions can inflame the situation and ultimately take more energy than just dealing with the problem directly. Our composure can unravel in the moment when our knee-jerk reactions and self-talk turn negative. Thoughts such as “This hassle is the last thing I need right now…I don’t deserve this aggravation…and I shouldn’t have to be dealing with this right now” are personal reactions that distract from the challenge at hand and may do more to psych us out of proactive action than the issue itself.

If you need it, go ahead and give yourself a minute to sulk and feel like things aren’t fair. But once that minute of indulgence has passed, breathe deep and let it go, accepting the situation as it is for what it is. While some people seem to effortlessly exude cool, calm and collected attitudes, others need to work a little harder on it. Either way, consistently maintaining our composure is something we can all do. The following tips will help you step up when it’s crunch time crunch:

- Give yourself a minute to vent and collect yourself;
- Assess the situation objectively and don’t let your own or someone else’s personal reaction cloud things;
- Gather all relevant information to understand the issue;
- Look at the deeper root cause of the problem and don’t get distracted by emotional interpretations of it; and
- Lead by example and take simple, focused action on what can be influenced.

You can tell you are composed when you breathe easily, remain centered and acknowledge the pressure and challenge of the moment without adding to it with your own angst. Keeping your composure is not only a key for your own individual success, but by example it can also inspire confidence in others. Imagine what’s possible when we rise to the occasion and keep our composure when the pressure is on.

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